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Latter-day Saint Therapist: Exercise for Sanity, Not Vanity

by | Oct. 25, 2019

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“We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size.” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “To Young Women,” October 2005 General Conference).

When I was in my 20s, working out was all about looking good. I was single and it seemed easier to find time for it. As I’ve gotten older, the challenges of balancing career, marriage, church callings, and parenthood have contributed to the mentality that I’m “too busy” or “too tired” to exercise. What’s more, I’ve tried to justify myself with thoughts like, “I’m not vain enough to make the gym a priority. I’ve got important things to do and I love myself just the way I am.” In recent months, however, I’ve discovered something: exercise is about sanity, not vanity. The benefits are psychological, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical.

Like many people, I’d go for a jog or hit the weights once in a while, but not with any consistency. After every single workout, however, I noticed that my stress was either gone or significantly diminished. As a result, I was much more patient with my children. I had more energy throughout the day. I was better able to focus at work and in my church calling. As I reflected on the doctrine that “the spirit and the body are the soul” (D&C 88:15, emphasis added), I began to realize that physical exercise should be more of a priority.

There are mountains of research demonstrating the mental, emotional, and relational benefits of regular exercise. Working out can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. It can serve as a healthy alternative to self-harming behaviors. I’ve recommended exercise to my clients as a means of overcoming nicotine cravings and urges to smoke. Staying physically active has been demonstrated to improve one’s quality of sleep, boost energy, and help prevent injury and disease.

This information, and my experiences, has led me to the realization that exercise isn’t just for people obsessed with having a six-pack; it’s for everyone who wants to live a balanced life. As I’ve renewed, and followed through with, my commitment to regular physical activity, I’ve found it easier to meet my potential as a therapist, a husband, a father, a friend, and a Latter-day Saint. Exercise has helped me to have energy, a clear head, and a more positive disposition.

If you find yourself thinking you’re too busy or too tired to work out, it likely means that you can’t afford not to. If your schedule is tight, try doing just a few minutes a day. Multi-tasking is also helpful: for example, you can download conference talks or scriptures for free from ChurchofJesusChrist.org, put them on an mp3 player, and do gospel study while you jog. Get creative, make it fun for you, and go for it!

God bless you. I hope this helps.

Lead image from Getty Images
Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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