Fitness, Faith and Family by Peggy Bowes

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Editor’s Note:  I am thrilled to share the good news that my friend Peggy Bowes, author of The Rosary Workout, will be joining our CatholicMom.com family of contributors!  I know you’ll enjoy reading Peggy’s faith-filled takes on fitness and spirituality.  Welcome to the family Peggy!  Lisa

The Benefits of Combining Prayer and Exercise

I am thrilled and honored that Lisa has invited me to share my passion for fitness and health through a regular column here on CatholicMom.com.  I’ve been in the fitness industry for over 15 years, and I look forward to helping readers overcome obstacles and challenges to exercise and good health.

As a devout Catholic, I like to incorporate the power of prayer and a spiritual perspective into my fitness advice.  In this light, I’ve decided to use the title “Fitness, Faith and Family” for this column.  In the months ahead, I will explore health, fitness and exercise topics that are relevant to Catholic moms.  I want this column to be interactive, so please feel free to add comments and suggestions!

The first topic I’d like to cover is the combination of prayer and exercise.  As Catholics, we understand the importance of prayer, but why do we need to exercise?  Of course we’ve all heard that rhythmic exercise such as walking, running or biking relieves stress, improves restful sleep, prevents disease and gives a boost of energy.  What you don’t often hear are the benefits of exercise for mental health.  It can create an almost euphoric feeling of well-being along with clearer thought and a heightened awareness.  This sharpness and clarity of mind can be directed toward meditative prayer with a little practice.

I wrote a book called The Rosary Workout based on this concept, and I can testify that the combination of prayer and exercise is very powerful.  Let me give you an example to help you understand.

This morning, I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the ever-growing list of tasks that I needed to accomplish.  I really had no time to exercise, but experience has taught me that if I make time, then my day will go so much better.  I laced up my running shoes and headed for my favorite trail.  As I ran, I felt my many burdens gradually slip from my shoulders.   I began to pray the Rosary and meditated on the Joyful Mysteries.  My soul rejoiced with Mary as she led me through the events of her Divine Son’s youth.  I walked back home, refreshed and eager to tackle my list.

You don’t have to be a runner or an athlete to enjoy the benefits of combining prayer and exercise.  I usually pray the Rosary during my workouts, but any type of prayer or meditation can be incorporated into a fitness routine.  For example, try praying the Angelus while you walk during your lunch break at work or after dropping off the kids at the bus stop.  This brief but powerful prayer is easy to memorize and reminds us that Mary’s fiat (“yes”) brought the Savior into the world, changing it forever.  At the same time, a short brisk walk aids digestion and clears the mind for the tasks ahead.

Another idea is to contemplate the Beatitudes as you wash the minivan, work in the garden or vacuum the carpets.  House and yard work can serve as exercise if done vigorously for 15-20 minutes, or longer if possible.  Before you start working, read Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel and reflect on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as you perform those mundane chores that ultimately bless your family.

If you enjoy exercising in a gym, you can still incorporate prayer and exercise.  Download an audio version of the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, Litany of the Sacred Heart or another prayer onto your MP3 player or smart phone.  Plug in the headphones, and find your favorite cardio or weight machine.  You’ll lift your heart to heaven at the same time you strengthen it through exercise.

Need a little more motivation?  You may find it in “A Prayer to Become Fit in Faith.”  This beautiful and inspiring prayer was written by my friend, Dr. Kevin Vost, author of Fit For Eternal Life:

A Prayer to Become Fit in Faith

Oh Generous God,

You have given us minds and bodies in your glorious image.

Grant to us the Courage

To train our muscles to show their true strength

And to train our hearts and lungs,

So that we may endure in helping others.

Help us build our Self-Control

So that we may seek to eat and enjoy what we need to sustain us,

Losing all desire for the excess that weighs us down in body and spirit.

Guide us towards Justice

So that we will devote to ourselves the time to grow fit

Without depriving our loved ones of the time that we owe them.

Help us grow in Wisdom

So that we will pursue sensible methods of bringing out the best in  ourselves,

And making our bodies Temples of Your Spirit.

Plant deep within us Faith, Hope, and Charity

So that people will know we our Christians by our loving actions

And so, that by growing fit in faith,

We may spur hope in our families and in our neighbors too,

So that they may share in the robust spiritual and physical fitness

That You would have us enjoy.

Amen

Copyright 2010 Peggy Bowes

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4 Comments

  1. Hi, Peggy.

    I’m looking forward to your column. I’ve never been much for exercise. I did run for about five years when I was 30 to 35 but I hated it. The best part about it was when I stopped. I’d feel good for a few hours. Then I went back to school and had four young children to take care of and just didn’t feel I could work in running.

    I did like walking but find myself doing nothing right now. I am 65 and my husband has Parkinson’s Disease. I stopped working 10 years ago to be his caregiver. I drive him everywhere and, when I do walk, it ‘s at his pace. Just like when I had young children who I couldn’t leave alone for very long, I cannot leave him.

    I am always tired so all I really want to do is sleep – not move. I tried yoga for a bit 15 years ago but didn’t continue. Now I’m learning that it is not okay for Catholics to do yoga.

    Can you make some suggestions down the road for people like me who have limitations of time, space (I live in a townhouse that doesn’t have much available floor space to spread out), and desire?

    I’m up and down with praying, too. Help! 🙂 Thanks and God bless.

    Susan Kaness

  2. Dear Susan,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post a comment. I understand your dilemma, and I know it is difficult for you to find time to exercise. What a blessing that you walk with your husband! If you can, offer up these slow walks for help in finding more time to pray and exercise or for some other intention.

    It sounds like you have a lot of responsibility on your hands! Is it possible to find a friend, family member or hired professional to watch your husband while you take maybe 30-45 minutes to walk or get some sort of exercise (or at least a little break and some fresh air)? If not, contact your parish for help. Many parishes have volunteer programs or may know of some volunteer or inexpensive respite care. You can also ask the Blessed Mother to send you help. Pray the Rosary and she will help you.

    Thank you for the suggestion for a future column. I will pray for you!

  3. I am a personal trainer working primariiy with our “Chronologicalyy Gifted” members , 60 and over. My colleagues and I are parishioners of our local dioceses, I train a very diverse group of senior men and women of all religius persuasiions. He is a psychologist and body language expert,. However, it became apparent to us that the subject of faith and spiruality seemed to creep into our on-floor discussions whilce working out. Equally important has been the comradierie and very caring fiendships that have evolved as a resuult of coming together in a wellness improvement setting. From this evolving experience, spanning the last four years, we have crafted a program idea ; F”itness, Faith and Fellowship.” and have put this idea forward to members of the clergy for their consideration. I am confident that something good will come of this.The emerging reasearch and lliterature in the firness field clearly points to the fundamental connection between the physical, mental and spirtual aspects of the human experience, and we are ready now to explore the spirtual connection. The physical and mental are very well known,but the spiritual still remains a mystery of sorts (for some) at least at this time. Pleae note that a rosary can be said while walking a mile.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Bud. ABC News has an interesting article about how faith-based exercise programs are especially helpful for older adults: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/sisters-motion-faith-based-exercise-inspires-grandma/story?id=11813606

    Good point about saying a Rosary as you walk a mile (although the distance will obviously depend on your pace). I often point out that it takes 20 minutes to say a Rosary, which is the minimum time most fitness experts recommend for aerobic exercise. You can learn more in my book. The Rosary Workout:
    http://www.amazon.com/Rosary-Workout-Peggy-Bowes/dp/0982338864/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284466762&sr=1-1

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