“Fit’ Is More Than ‘Not Fat,” Ensign, June 1978, 44
If you got as far as this first sentence, you’re probably either (a) already involved in a physical fitness program yourself and consequently feeling relatively smug, or (b) you’re not and you feel guilty.
Well, you’ve already heard all the reasons you should feel guilty—your body is part of your stewardship and you’re not taking care of it, you’re setting a bad example for the children, you’re shortening your life-span and reducing your effectiveness for the part that’s left, and you may be as lazy and self-indulgent as most overfed, underworked people of our time.
All of these things may be true, but guilt isn’t much of a motivation. Instead, we’d like you to meet some women who long ago went beyond feeling guilty to establish a new relationship with that important part of themselves called their body. This is how—and why—they like being physically fit.
Farm-girl Meets City Sloth
Velma Harvey, Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s secretary, was raised on a farm and had grown up hiking, camping, and whacking softballs. When she moved to the city, she decided to stay physically fit by jogging in place in her apartment. She was fairly conscientious about trying to improve both her speed and her time, so she got the shock of her life when she and a friend—who runs a consistent two miles a day—went to the track.
“I ran one-half mile that day while my friend ran her usual two,” Velma confessed. “I was a dabbler and I had to admit it.” Shocked, she started going to the track every morning and within several months had worked up to three miles a day, then four, then five. Then all this determined exercising backfired. She developed tendon problems and her doctor advised her to cut back to a “more reasonable schedule.”
From under-exercising to over-exercising, Velma has found a satisfactory solution: running two miles and walking a third one each day. Some days she doesn’t have the time to exercise, and then “my whole body is off. My interaction with people is off. I’m tired.” What’s her commitment now? Simple. “I intend to keep running the rest of my life.”
Maybe you don’t identify with Velma. Maybe you’re younger, more active. Take a look at Shauna Jacobson, a student at Ricks. She became alarmed after her first year of college when she discovered how much weight she’d put on and asked her physical education instructor for help. The teacher gave her a “daily dozen” of six stretching exercises, six strength exercises, and an endurance program. After one month, Shauna exclaimed, “I feel great! I haven’t lost any weight yet, but my muscles are firmer, and my clothes fit better.” Like Velma, she gets up early so that her day starts with exercising and about fifteen minutes of jogging.
“It’s really made a difference in my life,” she says enthusiastically. “At first I was tired by the end of the day but now I have energy and feel great, even at night.”
What’s her commitment now? Simple. “I’m going to keep this up forever.”
Even if you’re in good shape, conditioning can put you in better shape. Karen Kennington, number one on BYU’s tennis team for the last three years, has her eye on the pro world. Being selected as one of the top ten women collegiate players in the United States in 1976 didn’t hurt either. But when playing tennis is your love as well as your job, do you really need other exercise too?
Karen’s answer is an unequivocal yes. When she was fifteen, playing in the semifinals of the Intermountain Junior Tennis Tournament, she lost because “I got so tired.” She vowed never to lose again because of poor conditioning.
After a year of running a daily mile and jumping rope ten minutes, she was “fully rewarded” at the next Intermountain Junior Tennis Tournament “when my opponent was huffing and puffing and I was winning and feeling great.”
But you’re not a professional athlete, right? And your body sometimes is more a collection of aches and bruises than a finely tuned wind instrument. Well, meet Ann Madsen, grandmother of four, wife of a BYU professor, and with all the potential of being a chronic invalid. A little over twenty years ago a developing back problem virtually crippled her. During some months she was confined to bed as many hours as she was up. Finally she had to have surgery.
For her, exercise started as therapy. Her physician gave her a set of back exercises and advised swimming to reduce her back problems. Otherwise, even the surgery wouldn’t work against the pain and the immobility. Ever since then, over five years ago, Ann has been swimming.
And it hasn’t all been fun. Weak from her surgery, she “struggled with the bare essentials of the day.” Swimming even a few strokes was the same kind of struggle with her limp muscles. A minor complication was that she didn’t know how to swim very well and didn’t know how to coordinate her breathing and strokes until a lifeguard taught her. She worked toward swimming twenty lengths nonstop, but simply laughed when he challenged her to swim a mile. (A mile is 72 lengths in a regulation-size pool.)
Notwithstanding, she accepted the challenge and found it linked, in a curious way, with two other major challenges in her life: taking her master’s graduate exams in Ancient Studies and writing a thesis on Melchizedek. She found herself saying, “Any woman who can swim a mile nonstop can pass exams or write a thesis,” and she did—first the mile, then the exams, then the thesis. “In an interesting way, swimming has given me greater confidence and discipline in all aspects of my life.”
Are there problems? Sure. The fact that her hair gets soaked in swimming pool water every day is one disadvantage. “Vanity about my appearance was actually a problem,” she admits. She solved it by getting a short, bounce-back haircut. Another problem is time. She spends between thirty and forty minutes in the pool each morning, five days a week, swimming two to three slow laps followed by ten or so sprinted laps, then winding down by treading water for five minutes. Add driving time and it takes about an hour a day. “I could be doing other things with that hour, but I like the results too much.”
What are the results? One is that she’s “learned to appreciate” her body. The combination of back pain and feeling fat had made her dislike herself for years. “Now my muscles are toned and I love the way I feel and look.”
Another advantage is the exhilaration of free movement, all parts in working order. “Some days I feel like a fish,” she says. “I can’t help hoping there will be something like swimming in heaven.”
And another is the mental and emotional stability that comes from that time. It’s not boring for her. She meditates, memorizes scriptures, frees her mind for the Lord’s answers, and plans her day. “Sometimes I feel the puzzle pieces of my life all come together so that when I climb out of the pool the problems have solutions and I can go into action.”
But roommates and a thesis are only mildly disturbed if you take an hour off to exercise. What can the mother of five demanding children do? Nancy Braithwaite, the wife of a high school teacher in Orem, Utah, took a look at her future six years ago when she began swimming in the early morning. “The days that I went to swim, I was able to accomplish so much more in my home. It was an exhilarating feeling!” But it was difficult to get out every day. So last year she joined some Relief Society sisters in her neighborhood—and they started jogging every morning at 5:30. If the weather gets too nasty or cold, they carpool to the local swimming pool or indoor track. A dark porchlight is a no-go signal, cutting out the honking or phone calls that might disturb the rest of the family.
In 1977, they aimed at the Presidential Sports Award, offered by the President of the United States to anyone who completes fifty hours of participation spread over at least fifty sessions within a period of four months in such sports as jogging, swimming, and bicycling. Many of them got it—in fact, Nancy got two—one for swimming and one for jogging. “It’s all right to be forty,” she says, “but it’s a disgrace to be forty and fat!”
The fact that Nancy takes time for scripture study and meditation after exercising but before the family day begins is a solid core of achievement that’s still there even if eighteen things have gone wrong an hour after breakfast.
Terry Roberts hated exercise like the plague. She’d mainly grown up abroad with her State Department father and ran into compulsory physical education only when he was assigned back to the States during her early teens. The experience was disastrous! That one experience was enough. She swore off exercise, squeaking by with the most grudged minimum in college and continuing to dodge it during the early years of her marriage. There was only one problem: she became very physically unfit.
Now she’s thirty-four, her four children are in elementary school, and she’s just as busy with homemaking, Church work, and community service as she ever was; but in the last three years she’s lost forty-five pounds, dropped from a dress size 16–18 to an 8–10, and has greater energy and fewer tensions.
Does she owe it all to exercising? You bet she does. When she signed up for a jogging class, she was motivated mostly by guilt. Fortunately the class provided an external motivation to keep her on her feet during those mortifying days when she couldn’t jog a full lap without stopping to gasp and pant.
She learned to deal with the humiliation—mainly by getting better—and also learned to deal with the physical pain that protested years of neglect. “It’s real,” she testified. “You have to respect it so you won’t injure yourself but you can’t give in to it or you’re going to be permanently discouraged.” Now she jogs several miles a day, six days a week, and winds down with a mile and a half walk.
“The problems of finding a time, of physical pain, and setting up a routine have been very difficult sometimes,” she acknowledged, “but they’re small compared to the benefits and joys I experience each day. I have a feeling of well-being that’s impossible to describe to someone who’s never before experienced the exhilaration of being physically fit.”
Needs are different at different stages of your life, and we’re personal witnesses to that. As Phyllis says, “Once I passed thirty-five, I noticed that an occasional pound stayed around longer than I liked and that it was harder to stay in condition. These physical slowdowns were ganging up on me at the same time as my teaching duties were gradually becoming administrative duties. I couldn’t even start the day with a run anymore because a hereditary problem of varicose veins caught up with me.
“I experimented with different things and finally settled on a stationary bicycle. Cycling indoors doesn’t make for exciting scenery, but at least it’s something I can still do even if the hill I’m living on is having a blizzard.
“My grandmother is another example of adaptation. Active all her life, she kept walking even when she had to shuffle along with a walker in a rest home where she spent her last few years. For her ninetieth birthday, I gave her a pair of tennis shoes—and she loved them! For her, the pay-off was maintaining flexible knees and strong legs right up to the end.”
We know from experience: “The stronger your body, the more it obeys; the weaker your body, the more it demands.”
Let’s look at that list of guilt-causers again. They’re all still true. Let’s even add a few.
I don’t have time. Nonsense. You have 24 hours just like everyone else. You just haven’t allocated the time yet.
I don’t like to exercise. Fine. Most people don’t. But how do you like the results of not exercising?
It’s terribly inconvenient. True. If you’re married, things like this sometimes have to be a cooperative decision. What is your husband willing to give up so you can exercise? What are you willing to give up so you can exercise? It’ll take time and you might as well face that.
I have a baby. I can’t just abandon her. We see young mothers down on the track jogging around, pausing every lap or so to talk to their babies sitting in strollers. We see whole families jogging, the older children taking turns dropping out of a lap to take care of the baby. We see young married couples running together but at different paces so that one of them is checking on the baby every few minutes. Millie Cooper, subject of our BYU film What Makes Millie Run? started out by pushing the baby buggy.
But really, when it comes right down to it, why should I exercise? The women we’ve told you about, all of them in different circumstances and using individual programs, are exercising not because they feel guilty, but because it makes them happy. They’re understanding something about their bodies—and about their eternal identities—that they otherwise wouldn’t. Exercise creates a sense of pride, a sense of possession, and also a sense of reverence for this tabernacle of our spirit.
Probably no one knows it better than Louise Lake, confined to a wheelchair for over thirty-five years as a victim of spinal and bulbar polio. The fact that she is even alive testifies to her courage, intelligence, and sheer willpower. Twice given up for dead, she told students she sometimes has to spend hours just getting up in the morning and preparing for bed at night.
Isn’t a body a burden on the spirit under such circumstances? Louise’s answer, given to the student body at Ricks College as she accepted the Exemplary Womanhood Award in 1976, gives us another perspective.
“I love my body. Why do I love my body so much? Because I have disciplined this flesh, and in times when normally it would have said, ‘Oh I can’t, this is too much, too difficult,’ I have said to my flesh, ‘Arise, you will get out of bed, you will prepare this, you will do that, you will attend this.’ And so the spirit has told the struggling flesh what to do and together they have mastered some of those situations. The flesh has been obedient and has come along to the spirit’s self-discipline.
“Do you think I’d want another body? No! This flesh has been trained and under inconvenience it has met challenges. I am so grateful for the … beautiful teaching of the resurrection that I may arise … with this same flesh perfected, cleansed, strengthened, ready because it has mastered some difficult things.”
If you want to go right out and start running, jumping rope, and bicycling, don’t—unless you:
1. Have a medical examination with clearance from your physician for vigorous activity.
2. Obtain shoes with good arch support, firm heel support, and cushioned soles.
3. Tone up for vigorous activities with strengthening and flexibility exercises. (See exercises in the Relief Society and Young Women’s manuals in bibliography below.)
4. Determine what your individual cardiovascular conditioning program should be, based on your own resting pulse rate. (See Young Women’s manual or Fisher, below.)
What Makes Millie Run, 1977, BYU, Provo, Utah.
Welfare and Social Services Family Preparation Manual. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978
A Sensible Course in Physical Fitness—Relief Society Optional Lessons, Homemaking. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974.
Fisher, A. Garth, Your Heart Rate. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1976.
Cooper, Mildred, and Kenneth H. Cooper. Aerobics For Women. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.
Young Women’s Physical Fitness, Recreation and Sports Manual. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1977.