For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8)
These words of the Apostle Paul to Timothy immediately tell us at least two things:
- Godliness is more important than exercise, influencing both now and eternity.
- Physical training is valuable.
After I graduated from University in 2002, Jesus opened a wonderful door for me into the clinical world of the UK’s National Health Service, affectionately known throughout the British Isles as the NHS. Together with my background as a fitness instructor, it was a privileged opportunity to use my degree in Sport Science and English literature to further specialize in work with very high-risk and frightened patients trapped in cycles of inactivity.
I couldn’t have imagined working, as I did, for seven years with cardiac patients who’d experienced severe heart trauma and associated surgeries and seeing patients come off medication for diabetes or regaining basic walking mobility having been bed-bound for years.
So, please rest assured, the advice in this article is given through years of study and solid professional experience helping thousands of patients!
Here are my seven essential priorities for improving/maintaining your physical health:
- Commit Consistently to Long-term Exercise Adherence: In other words, commit to exercise, in one form or another, for the rest of your life! “Giving something a go” for, say, six weeks is virtually pointless. The only way your body will respond healthily to the overload stress of exercise is to do it regularly and consistently to allow your body (and mind) to adapt. Research has proven that infrequent, intense exercise can also be dangerous to your health. Think long-term when it comes to your physical health.
- Commit to Exercise, Not Physical Activity: This is an important point and one that is more than semantic. Physical activity is obviously important but lacks the benefits of structure provided by exercise. Although following the structured elements of an exercise “plan” can be easier for some more than others, it’s the science behind exercise that will enable you to improve (and review) your health safely, avoiding not only injury but also demotivation. The difference between generic physical activity (weeding the garden, walking down the beach, vacuuming the carpet) and a structured exercise program is vital for maximizing your health improvement. That said, structured exercise does not necessarily mean being inside in a gym if you have a strong aversion to that. Think structure when it comes to your physical health.
- Commit to FITT: So, here’s the essential structure I’ve just mentioned in the form of a memorable acronym, representing the essential elements to health-improving exercise.
- Frequency = the number of times that you exercise. National UK recommendations for this are between 3-5 sessions a week.
- Intensity = the level that you are exercising at, best measured by monitoring your heart rate. Your maximum HR is calculated by 220 minus your age and, from that figure, you calculate a percentage to train at. (Please drop me a line if you’d like more help with this especially if you are taking beta-blocker medication).
- Type = including elements of cardiovascular, resistance and flexibility exercises so that all types are included to provide a balanced, physiological approach.
- Time-based = ensuring that your exercise sessions are not too long or too short. Again, UK recommendations for this are between 45-60 minutes per session, although higher intensity sessions can be performed in 30 minutes or less.
Think FITT when it comes to your physical health.
- Commit to Regular Change: Many people (often including myself) can stagnate in their regular exercise structure because they fail to review their progress and refresh things accordingly. Going through the motions of the same exercises month in, month out, will return only minimal benefits. So, to combat this, google something known as periodization ‒ a scientific way of not only structuring and planning your exercise but also varying it for maximum gains. Periodization is vital to “shock” your system after approximately 6-8 weeks of following the same sessions, as per the FITT acronym above ‒ your local fitness instructor should be able to help you with this if you ask. Think variety when it comes to your physical health.
- Commit to Good Food: There is much to be said for the old adage, “you are what you eat.” This is the one my wife will tell you I struggle with the most. I am very motivated internally to exercise hard and regularly, but I am much less motivated when it comes to putting the right things in my body. I am particularly vulnerable to poor choices after big training sessions when I want to eat everything! It’s also been proven that running (a common way that people try to lose weight) can actually cause people to gain unwanted weight precisely because they assume they can eat what they want after a run, not remembering that if you consume more calories than you have burned, you will get progressively fat! The nutrition/exercise ratio split is well known as being approximately 75:25, or higher (i.e. nutrition is at least 3x more important than exercise). Think nutrition when it comes to your physical health.
- Commit to Fun: It’s really important, especially for those of you less motivated when it comes to exercise, to try and find a form of exercise that you can genuinely enjoy. It might be weight-lifting, it might be squash or tennis, it might be running or power-walking. Find what works best for you and incorporate the elements above into making it as effective as possible.
- Commit to Muscle: Often these days, our “exercise goals” relate synonymously to losing unwanted adiposity ‒ in other words, a lot of us want/need to lose fat! One of the biggest mistakes you can make to this end is believing that the best way of doing this is to do as much aerobic, cardiovascular exercise as possible (like bashing out miles and miles on a bike or treadmill). However, the best way of losing fat is to improve your lean muscle mass. This doesn’t mean getting as “big” as possible, but it does mean that resistance training is very important. Why? Lean muscle mass (as opposed to fat) not only improves your strength and flexibility but it also improves your metabolic rate ‒ in layman’s terms, the ability of your body to deal with the energy you put into it. This is why it’s easier to eat what you want in your twenties ‒ and stay fit ‒ but much harder to in your thirties onwards. As we get older our metabolic rates will naturally drop so it’s therefore vital to do what you can to improve things in this regard. One word of caution: muscle is heavier than fat so when you increase your exercise over time you will experience a redistribution of weight (google it) because you will lose fat and gain muscle. So? Don’t always go by what the scales say. Think resistance training when it comes to your physical health. (I have found the global Les Mills Body Pump classes to be phenomenal for this).
As Christian leaders in God’s house, I hope these seven essential priorities help you to make the improvements that are within your power to make. God knows, we need healthier, stronger, leaner, more flexible leaders who can stay the course! You can absolutely improve your health!
*If any of you reading this have more serious medical conditions ‒ or are taking medication ‒ that you think might make what I’ve advised here impossible, please feel free to drop me a line and I will be more than happy to help! @nickfranks or via www.FirebrandNotes.com