We all have periods of our lives where we just feel like “bleh.” I say that to mean we have 0 motivation. During these periods we get nothing done, and sometimes we slip into highly destructive habits. We want to repent, but we can’t seem to want it enough. Even when we do make basic attempts, it’s really hard and we want to give up. There’s a simple solution: Exercise.
It’s weird to talk about the two together, but they really are highly connected. If we can do one, it helps us do the other, and thus a virtuous cycle is created. This article, then, is about the benefits we get from exercise and how it correlates with repentance. It is incredible. Exercise is a great trick to boost the ability to repent.
I’m going to talk about repentance from sin, transgression, and even addiction as far as it relates to exercise. The benefits expressed in the following sections apply to every sort of weakness of mankind. I hope you pay close attention to the benefits you would most want to have.
Exercise Helps You Cope With Stress
Many addictions, sins, bad habits, and transgressions are just negative ways of coping with stress. I’ll be the first one to admit that I formed an emotional connection with the popular TV show “Parks and Recreation” in a period of my life when I wasn’t doing so hot (don’t judge me). I’ve since learned better stress coping mechanisms (don’t get me wrong, I still love Parks and Rec, I just don’t binge watch it like I used to).
Exercise has become one of those coping mechanisms. It’s nice to know that if I’m ever just stressed out of my mind I can just go for a run, or go to the gym. Sometimes even just doing physical work around the house has helped to keep my stress down, my mind reigned in, and the anxiety at bay.
Recent studies have even shown that physical exercise can help train the body to cope with stress during parts of the day where there is no exercise. This means that if you exercise regularly, your stress coping methods will improve across the board. That is fantastic. It is especially great because it doesn’t have to cost you any money, and can even be extremely fun.
Exercise Helps You Think More Creatively
Exercise doesn’t just boost your stress coping methods, but it boosts creativity. Sometimes we fall into sin, transgression, bad habits, or addictions when we can’t see a way out of a particular situation. We might have too many deadlines and not enough work done. Maybe, we have more month left than paycheck, and that tithing slip starts to feel heavy in our hands.
Studies have been done that show that exercise can boost creativity up to two hours after the workout. That’s why I recommend going on short walks during breaks at work. Even standing up or sitting on one of those fun bouncy ball chairs can help get the blood flowing. With better creativity, we are better able to face the new challenges presented to us on a daily basis. Plus, creativity fuels fun things like this.
With more creativity, we can assess our lives, our habits, our time management, and whatever else and come up with new ways of managing it all. With creativity, we break down our own limits and destroy our own self-imposed rules that aren’t bringing us closer to Christ.
Exercise Helps You Be More Motivated
I know it sounds paradoxical that exercise, something you need the motivation to do, helps you be more motivated. It’s true though. My best friend’s cousin gave him some counsel once that boiled down to, “move your feet.” If we just move our feet the Lord can guide us, refuel us, repurpose us, and magnify us. The trick then isn’t to do everything. It’s just to get up and do something.
Studies have shown that exercise improves motivation and productivity. I think the pattern we are starting to see is that the benefits of exercise affect all aspects of our life. In this, we can see that our bodies are linked so closely to our minds and our spirits. Any benefit to our body benefits our mind and our spirit.
This also illustrates the idea of momentum. When moving large objects, it requires immense amounts of force to get it to accelerate, but it requires far less force to maintain speed. When you exercise, it gives you some momentum and it is then easier to keep up that motivation and productivity. Thus you carry your exercise momentum into your repentance and you are that much more prepared to do hard things.
Exercise Improves Sleep
This is a benefit we all need (except for toddlers who never seem to want to sleep). Think back to a day when you did something extremely exhausting for a long period of time. For me, that takes me back to the early days of my mission. When you get home, you are asleep before your head hits the pillow.
Science has even shown that exercise helps regulate circadian rhythms. It has also shown that exercise improves the overall quality of sleep. In a world of things that keep you up (bright lights, caffeine, sugar) and things that put you to sleep (NyQuil), when your body exerts itself, it helps to get a bearing on how your body actually feels. It creates the right internal signals. This helps you to shut down and sleep when you need to and to remain awake when you need to.
Sleep is so important to avoid sin, especially addiction. When you sleep less, your ability to make good decisions decreases. It has been compared to drinking alcohol. Here’s a quote from J. David Glass, professor of biological sciences at Kent State University about the effects of sleep on bad habits:
“Thus, there may be an underlying genetic predisposition for alcohol dependence and abuse that is expressed under challenging circadian conditions, such as shift work, sleep problems or repeated jet-lag exposure.”
So any of our predispositions are exaggerated when we have a lack of sleep. Let’s all get a little bit more sleep, and give our bodies a break. Our spirits will feel better too.
Exercise Prevents Relapse
This benefit is specifically for those who struggle against highly ingrained habits, but it can be applied to everyone. The idea is that exercise can stop you from sinking back into somewhere you don’t want to be. It can help you to refocus and not give up, but it can also strengthen your discipline.
On a scientific basis, this makes a good deal of sense. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins such as dopamine (the happy feeling endorphin). It helps your body reset its chemical signaling processes. It’s not magical, so it does take time, but it certainly helps.
In the book “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, we learn that most successful people have a core habit that helps them form the rest of their lives. I don’t think it is a coincidence that exercise is a common core habit. It helps structure your mind, your body, and your life. Around this habit you can form other good habits and reprogram other bad habits (i.e. sin).
Exercise Improves Your Hope
This benefit is one of my favorites. In my opinion, one of the most destructive things to prevent repentance is a simple idea that one cannot change. I know, because I’ve been there. When you don’t believe you can change, you don’t try because, well, “why bother?” This is perhaps one of Satan’s most insidious lies because nothing could be farther from the truth. Christ came to save and to change. If I can’t change that means His mission was for naught.
I can change. Exercise helps me believe that. Studies have been done that show that self-efficacy (the idea that you can master skills and tasks) improves. That means when you exercise, you improve your belief that you can improve. This is a natural precursor to improvement. When you have hope in yourself, and in Christ, all things are possible.
I would couple exercise with a study of Christ to really get this benefit. You need to have hope in yourself, but ultimately you need to rely on Christ. Therefore, you need to have hope in Him too. Get both sides, and believing in change will be that much easier.
Exercise Helps Depression
Exercise is a wonderful way to combat the symptoms of depression. Now let me be clear that it isn’t the single only right answer to depression. Instead, it is one tool among the many that we can use to combat this trial. I like this tool because it doesn’t require prescriptions or a doctor (in most cases)
According to my research, exercise improves your mood and decreases the symptoms of depression. I believe this is due to the dopamine release during exercise. I think it also comes from the feeling of overcoming obstacles and doing something. Sometimes in life, we feel powerless, unfulfilled, and helpless. When we overcome an obstacle we feel good. Exercise is a healthy simulation of that.
Depression can be part of a negative feedback loop. We make a mistake so we get depressed, we then feel so sad that we don’t care about making mistakes so we make another mistake, and the cycle continues. When we can put a stop to depression, life gets easier. Exercise is one way to help in the fight.
Exercise Improves Mental function
We don’t really think about this, but when you work out, your mind works out too. They’ve done studies showing that exercising helps your brain stay healthier than doing brain games. Maybe the key to thinking more is exercising more. It makes sense because when you engage in physical activity your heart pumps more blood and your brain, therefore, gets a better supply of nutrients.
If we don’t take care of our mind, our power to comprehend the Spirit and our power to resist temptation lessen. With strong minds, we can forge forward with faith in the ever burning furnaces of affliction. We will come out unscathed.
You Don’t Have To Be Perfect
With both exercise and repentance, we have a tendency to be perfectionists. We get mad at ourselves for not doing better and that just makes us do worse. Let’s remember, any step we make is valuable. It all counts. All forward progress is measured, and sometimes when all we can do is not go backward, that’s measured too. The Lord is merciful and just.
With that, I think it’s good to mention that there is no single one way of exercising or repenting. Do whatever works. Whatever helps helps. If you enjoy going on walks, do it. If you need nerd based exercise like that at nerdfitness.com, go for it. You might be a hardcore type that enjoys what the guys over at F3 do. Then good for you. Same goes for repentance. Let the Spirit guide you and tell you exactly what to do, but don’t follow a strict formula.
Work Out Your Own Salvation
Be anxiously engaged. In a battle of priorities of the gym versus church, I hope the Church wins. But I also hope that exercise becomes a part of your regular spiritual regimen. There are so many benefits to exercising, even revelation get easier because of it. So take some time and really analyze your exercise habits, and see how it can help you repent. I guarantee, you’ll feel better, and feel the Spirit better too.
Feel free to share your success stories down below.