Learning karate in my late teens was not one of the smartest things I have ever done, primarily because it was subtly intertwined with eastern religious principles and philosophies. When I finally realized this, I quit karate before I did my black belt grading, as that required that I participate in a Buddhist/Shinto Senjo ceremony, and as a Christian, I could not do that.
However, doing karate for two years had good points as well, the main one being that through it I achieved a very high level of physical fitness, and this had very positive effects upon every area of my life. During those two years my energy levels peaked, my mind became more flexible and alert, my immune system became stronger than ever before, and if I did get sick, I recovered very quickly. I also became more confident.
Now although I knew that karate’s regular workouts had brought about these amazing changes in my life, after I quit karate I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Instead of searching for another avenue of physical exercise without an eastern religious component, I stopped exercising altogether.
As to be expected, over the next four years my health steadily returned to what it had been previously. I caught every sickness I encountered, they hit me hard, my mind lost some flexibility, my energy reserves ran out and it was a struggle to make it through each day. Admittedly, after I graduated from Bible College I did far too much, working fulltime as well as being an assistant pastor, yet that was compounded by my lack of health due to partaking in no regular physical exercise.
In 1990, while stuck in the depths of depression, I realized my mistake and started getting back into regular exercise. Initially I went jogging and did (lots!) of sit-ups, and then in 1991, when I was well on the road to recovery from depression, I joined a gym. At first I did weights and circuit. Circuit was fun, very energetic and a great cardiovascular workout. On the other hand, since my mind had nothing to do while pumping iron, doing weights saw me struggling with fearful churning thoughts. Yet all the same, I noticed that my quality of life was slowly improving on all levels.
In 1992, I changed from doing weights and circuit to doing aerobics three times a week. Aerobics proved to be a fantastic workout for the entire body, and even helped with my mental problems. I recall going to an aerobics class while in the midst of a panic attack on several occasions, only to be pleasantly surprised when the brisk exercise to music drove the attack away.
Having learnt my lesson, twenty years later I am still doing aerobics, as well as light hand weights at home several days a week. Being physically fit helps all areas of our lives. It can boost our immune system, reduces the effects of illnesses upon us, strengthens our bodies and helps prevent injuries, makes our minds more flexible and alert, boosts our confidence, lifts our emotions, and even improves our spiritual condition.
I encourage everyone to partake in regular physical exercise. A word of caution, though - if you are out of shape, take it slowly, one-step at a time. Start by going on three or four gentle 45-minute walks a week. After a few weeks of this, change this to brisk walks. Consider joining a pilates class and improve your flexibility. In addition, depending upon your age and level of fitness, consider embracing more energetic forms of exercise such as swimming, aerobics, bike riding, or jogging. Joining a gym can be very helpful as the classes they run provide motivation for those who find it hard to motivate themselves. Gymnasiums also have exercise bikes, treadmills, steppers, rowing machines, and weights.
Another word of caution - depending upon our age and level of fitness, it is worthwhile getting a check-up with a doctor before determining a suitable form of regular physical exercise. Doing too much exercise or unsuitable exercise could cause injuries. If joining a gym, book yourself in for a physical assessment before joining any classes or doing any weights, and the instructor will design a program especially suited for you.
Bearing in mind the comments I made about karate and its eastern religious content, please avoid yoga as its roots and purposes are inseparably bound with eastern religious philosophies as well.
Another important aspect of maintaining our physical health is a good diet, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit and drinking about eight cups of water a day. (If our health deteriorates upon such a diet, see a doctor immediately. Some people are fructose or gluten intolerant, and a healthy diet can cause depression in such a case. )
Gary R. Collins, Ph.D. shares the following advice for preventing depression, “Encourage physical fitness. Since poor diet and lack of exercise can make people depression-prone, people should always be encouraged – by word and example – to take care of their bodies. A healthy body is less susceptible to mental as well as to physical illness.” Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980.
‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.’ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
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