More Exercise

A previous article discussed the basics of Christian fitness. Physical exercise is such an important element of your health and well-being that, when you are ready, you should undertake a more serious exercise program.


Lord, please give me the strength and discipline to increase my level of exercise so that I may continue to improve my physical health, so that I may look and feel better, and so that I may better carry your message and fulfill your vision for me.


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

1 Timothy 4:8 discusses the value of physical training. While the main thrust of the passage indicates that physical training is not as valuable as godliness, it does state that physical training is of value, and should not be interpreted as saying that exercise is unimportant. There is no reason that you cannot be both devout and in excellent physical condition. Indeed, improved physical conditioning is a way to honor God with your body.

It is well understood that a good amount of physical exercise is central to improving your health and appearance. Indeed, it is one of the most important components of your health, alongside diet. There are many different approaches to exercise, but guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an excellent place to start. According to the CDC, regular exercise can help control weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer (and perhaps even lung cancer), strengthen your muscles and bones, help with arthritis, improve your mood, help you to sleep better, and preserve your cognitive abilities as you age. Clearly, getting sufficient exercise is one of the surest ways to improve and protect your health.

So how much and what kinds of exercise do you need? The CDC explains that you need two types of exercise – aerobic and muscle strengthening – in sufficient amounts each week. The guidelines for each are discussed below. Note that these guidelines apply for most adults, but must be adjusted for children, older adults, and people with specific health considerations. Guidelines for these other age groups, as well as other helpful information, can be found on the CDC’s website, a link to which can be found on the Resources page.

Because each person has different needs, abilities, and health considerations, it is important to work with your physician to determine the safety and appropriateness of any exercise routine. Talk to your physician before starting a more serious exercise regimen, and if there is any reason you cannot undertake the specific steps outlined here, your physician can help you determine appropriate exercise alternatives for you.

Aerobic Exercise

The first type of exercise is aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercises are those that require consistent exertion, such as walking, running, hiking, biking, swimming, and cross-country skiing. Aerobic exercise gets your breathing rate and heart rate up for the duration of the exercise. You can meet your weekly aerobic requirements in several ways:

You can meet your aerobic needs by doing at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderately intense activity each week. Moderately intense activities are those that increase your heart rate and cause you to break a sweat, and generally include things like walking briskly or riding a bike on level ground (but not a leisurely ride with a lot of coasting). It is best to spread this activity throughout the week, such as 30 minutes on each of five days in the week. You can break this down even further, however, such as doing 15 minutes of moderately intense activity twice a day for five days each week. Doing less than 10 minutes of activity at a time, however, should not be counted toward meeting your weekly requirement.

Alternatively, you can meet your aerobic needs by doing at least 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous activity each week. Vigorous activities are those that cause you to breathe fast and hard, that elevate your heart rate significantly, and that cause you to sweat noticeably. Vigorous activities include things like running, swimming laps, or riding a bike fast or uphill. Again, this amount can be broken up in various ways throughout the week, but in no case should less than 10 minutes of activity at a time be counted toward meeting your requirements.

Finally, you can meet your aerobic needs by combining moderately intense activity with vigorous activity. You may have already noticed from the descriptions above that you can meet your weekly needs with half as much vigorous activity as moderately intense activity. You can think of this as a sort of exchange rate: one minute of vigorous aerobic activity is roughly equal to two minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity. You can mix the two types of aerobic exercise each week, as long as you are getting the same overall amount of aerobic activity each week. A simple way to combine the types is to assume you need 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week, with each minute of moderate activity counting as one minute, and each minute of vigorous activity counting double.

More aerobic exercise is even better. The aerobic requirements discussed above should be considered a minimum for most healthy adults. You can achieve even greater health benefits by exceeding these guidelines. You could even set as a target doubling the minimum requirement. That is, try over time to work up to an equivalent of 300 minutes each week of moderately intense activity (or 150 minutes of vigorous activity).

Muscle-Strengthening Exercise

The second type of exercise is muscle-strengthening exercise. In addition to aerobic exercise, you should also do muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two days each week. These exercises should target all of the major muscle groups in your body, including shoulders, arms, chest, back, abdomen, hips, and legs. These exercises include lifting weights, using weight machines, or using your body’s weight and gravity (such as push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups). Muscle-strengthening exercises can be done on the same or different days as your aerobic exercises.

Generally, for each exercise, you should select a weight or resistance that will allow you to do a set of 8 to 12 repetitions with some effort (though see the discussion of “starting slowly” below). Start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each major muscle group, and then work your way up to 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions each for each major muscle group. To achieve the most benefit from these exercises, the last few repetitions in a set should be somewhat difficult. This does not mean that you must attempt to lift a large amount of weight – the amount of weight or resistance will vary greatly from person to person, depending on conditioning.

If you do not have much experience with muscle-strengthening exercises, it is an excellent idea to learn from someone knowledgeable. Using too much weight or improper form can result in injury. Schedule a session or two with a trainer at your local gym. He or she can show you how to use the weights and machines safely and effectively, and can help you establish a workout routine that is tailored to your abilities and needs. Many gyms provide a free session or two with a trainer when you join. Alternatively, you can find a trainer to show you how to do muscle-strengthening exercises safely and effectively in your home.

Start Slowly

It is important not to increase your exercise level too quickly, which could result in strain or injury. If you have not gotten much exercise at all recently and are just starting out, or if you have been getting light exercise and are ready to increase your exercise level, you should proceed slowly. For example, get comfortable with a fair amount of moderately intense aerobic activity before adding in some vigorous aerobic activity. With the muscle-strengthening exercises, spend at least a few days doing sets with manageable weights or resistance before moving up to more challenging weights. This will prepare your muscles for the work to come and will give you an opportunity to perfect your form. Increase the intensity of your workouts slowly as your fitness level increases. Occasional sessions with a personal trainer are a great way to get objective feedback on your progress and to refine your exercise routine as your capabilities increase.

At least once a day for the next week, recite the prayer at the top of this page. Slowly begin to work your way up to the exercise levels recommended by the CDC as described above. This will mean increasing the length and intensity of your aerobic exercise and adding muscle-strengthening exercises. Consider finding a licensed physical trainer to help you make this transition.

Next: Forgive yourself when you make mistakes.