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Op-Ed: The Importance of Exercise

by Sarah Schochet

Just as there is a mitzvah to eat, there is a mitzvah to take care of your health. The Torah states, “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much (Deut. 4:9)” and “You shall guard yourselves very well (Deut. 4:15).” The Sages explain that these verses refer to the mitzvah of protecting one’s physical health.

Physical fitness is not stressed enough in our community. Maybe it’s because we blame it on the fact that our children don’t have a daily gym class, there are no convenient fitness facilities, or it’s easier just to watch the food aspect of a healthy lifestyle. These are exactly what they sound like-excuses. If you have time to read articles on a news site, you have time to get up and do a minute of jumping jacks or a five-minute walk around the block.

Even the Rambam (Maimonides) wrote of the importance of exercise: “Maintaining a healthy body is among the ways of serving G-d, since it is impossible for one who is not healthy to understand or know anything of the Creator. Therefore one must distance oneself from things which harm the body, and accustom oneself to the things which strengthen and make one healthy.” (Hilchot De’ot 4:1; 4:14-15)

Lack of exercise is actually damaging to one’s health. Ten years ago, the American Heart Association made physical inactivity a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. This put inactivity in the same category as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. We must be made aware that just as smoking is damaging to one’s health, so is not exercising.

Most of us have heard of all types of diets claiming health benefits, weight loss, etc. What these diets don’t tell us is HOW the weight loss happens. All you see is a number decreasing on a scale. That number doesn’t tell you that yes, you lost weight (most probably temporarily), but your weight loss was at an expense. You lost lean muscle mass. And guess what? You need that lean muscle mass. So how do you ensure that your weight loss is strictly FAT loss? By exercising. Exercise is essential for any maintenance or weight loss program. Diet is not enough to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Studies show a decrease in metabolic rate (your metabolism) in those who lost weight with diet alone, leading to eventual gaining back of previously lost weight. Exercise actually prevents this decrease in metabolic rate and preserves muscle mass.

Unfortunately, there are too many (mostly females) in the community who decide to go on extreme diets, fasts, or develop eating disorders that will come to harm them a lot more than a few extra pounds would. If only these people would follow the advice of the Rambam and exercise! Hashem would not have given us the mitzvah to eat on Shabbos and Yom Tov if it would come to harm us.

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” -Edward Stanley, English nobleman. 30 minutes a day, five days a week. That may seem like a lot to those who have never exercised, but start slow. You can even break down that half hour into just three 10-minute walks throughout your day. Any physical activity, whether it’s walking, biking, taking a yoga class, swimming, or climbing the stairs in your house, will only serve to increase your quality of life.

May we all merit to live long, happy, and healthy lives.

Sarah Schochet is a Certified Fitness Trainer, having trained in various fitness clubs throughout the state of Illinois, and is currently training women in Crown Heights. She is in the process of obtaining degrees in Exercise Physiology and Kinesiology. For more information on fitness for women, and to learn more about how to make exercise a part of your life, visit Sarah’s webpage here.

53 Comments

  • 1. Exercise wrote:

    Very good article. Too many in people in crown heights can not even walk up a flight of stairs.

  • 2. Wow, just wow. wrote:

    “If only these people would follow the advice of the Rambam and exercise!”

    Really, that’s the sage advice of a frum, professional fitness trainer? Follow the Rambam’s advice on exercise and all of your mental health problems will fall nicely into place? What about the thousands of pages he dedicated to encourage spiritual growth? Does this have no bearing on one’s overall health?

    Ms. Schochet, with all due respect to your position as a fitness expert, your are either naive or ignorant to encourage people to solve a spiritual/mental health problem with a physical remedy. Any competent, non-frum mental health professional will tell you that most eating disorders are NOT physical maladies. Just the opposite, in fact, and for you to place yourself on a pedestal and proclaim that exercise will solve the image issues that plague young women in our society is flat out irresponsible and unprofessional.

    Better yet, listen to the Rebbe, whom you casually avoid in this discussion, which ironically, appears on a site geared toward Lubavitchers.

  • 3. Article may save a life!! wrote:

    If you don’t use it you lose it! This is an VERY important issue that many of us neglect. We grow wider each month, a pound a week is nothing until it adds up over a year’s time to a total of 50 pounds, on top of last years 50 pounds!

    Imagine carrying around a 50 pound bag of potatoes – all day long! Your back would kill, your knees would collapse and you would be out of energy. That’s what it is to carry 50 pounds extra.

    It isn’t like carrying the extra 20 pounds when pregnant. You lose most of it after giving birth! But now people ask me all the time if I am pregnant

    “No I am not pregnant, thank you!” If I were pregnant, I wouldn’t have a sticker on my back saying, “WIDE LOAD” and “This person makes wide turns”.

    We are walking time bombs ready to burst a heart valve, an artery or kidney failure and diabetes. We smell bad because our weight makes us sweat extra heavily. Our clothes don’t fit right. We are miserable and hate ourselves and everyone else too.

    Our kids are embarrassed of the way we look, and let’s not kid ourselves, so is our spouse!

    We treat our bodies like garbage cans – I can’t throw away the left over kugel, here, let me eat it! We attack the food at a kiddush as if we have been without food for days. “Get outta my way, I need that shmaltz herring! All 8 pieces!!!”

    Tonight’s a L’chaim, yummy, free food! I can’t wait for the cake, cookies and candy. If I eat a vegetable stick dipped in sauce I can afford to eat a second slice of cream cake!

    I won’t walk to the L’chaim – no way, I will get a ride there and back!

    The only exercise we get is to our overworked digestive system which needs a vacation!

    Thanks for this great article. Well written! May I suggest this writer doing a regular feature on this topic to bring public awareness. It may save a life!!

  • 4. Confucius would mull it over wrote:

    If you help yourself g-d will help you and so will your peers and friends !

  • 5. hahahahaha wrote:

    yea right balebutim working out. working out the schmaltz herring and scotch bottles..

  • 7. Leah wrote:

    I agree that exercise is important but there are some us for whom 30 minutes a day of exercise does nothing. I need 90 minutes to see any difference and working 8am-9pm most days (including Sundays), I just don’t have that kind of time.

  • 10. It-s down from the top of crown GRHM wrote:

    Right on Sarah !
    Growing up in a frum household the emphasis of development wasnt geared towards physical strength development because mom doesn’t want the kids to hurt each other and to rely on go-d for protection from bigger people !
    This story goes back to the days of ancient Greece when the injuries and casualties of the wars took a toll on the development of villages and cities !
    International competitions developed to determine the victors at a saving of life mothers worked hard to develop !
    The product is the Olympics, sports and peace to abiders of the rules !
    While the winner isn’t a go-d, everyone loves a winner !

  • 11. sholom wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing on the Health Topic that so much of us neglct ,
    it is interested in KITZUR SHULCHON ORUCH chapter 32 ,(simon LEV 32) the entire chapter talks about waching your Health , what to eat , when to eat , about our METABELIZM ,
    he brings from the RAMBAM ways to wach your health ,
    that SIMON LAMED BEIS would heal lots of us in our Health.

  • 12. love to exercise wrote:

    yasher koach sarah. i am a frum woman and i LOVE getting my daily exercise. i do about 20-25 mins of cardio and then about 1/2 hour of strength training daily (not on shabbos or YT). it makes me feel awesome both physically and mentally. my husband knows i need to go to the gym for my mental health! if i lived in crown heights i would love to hire you as a personal trainer! keep up the great work!

    p.s. frum ladies: just do it! you won’t regret it!

  • 13. Chani B wrote:

    I never realized the importance of exercise. I am so glad sarah opened a women’s fitness center in Crown Heights. Its great that women can now keep to the halachos of exercise and nutrition in our own community.

  • 14. a parent wrote:

    I wish the Yeshivos would have it twice a week for our chidren once a week swimming and once a week fitness class. I imagine parents would have to speak to the Yeshivos to introduce it.

    Possibly we would find that the kids – being more active, would end up learning and behaving better (besides the obvious need to be healthy).

  • 15. Chanie H. wrote:

    As someone who works out with Sarah and trained with trainers previously she definitely knows her stuff and is an amaZig trainer completely worth trying !!

  • 16. Wow, just wow s cousin wrote:

    In 14 my cousin complained that a physical remedy won’t solve her spiritual/mental health problems. That is why she refuses to take her meds for schizophrenia. Pills are physical and her ailment is spititual/mental. To cure her spiritual /mental problems she seeks spiritual growth. Instead of taking her pills, when she hears voices, she studies a ma’amar very loudly. It is sad, but she really isn’t doing very well.

    She also seems to think that every discussion must center around the Rebbe. I say good morning to her and she complains that I am causally avoiding the Rebbe from my discussion! I see she made the sam complaint at the author and even the web-site! As I said, she isn’t doing very well without her meds, nebech.

    But besides her mental issues, she is also a immensely over-weight. She needs to make 100 brochas a day – so she eats 100 times a day. To her, food is a brocha!

    She is also allergic to exercise. In her mind, Hashem made elevators because He doesn’t want us to use stairs. He made cars so we shouldn’t need to walk. And He made lots of shuls so that on shabbos we can stroll to the closest shul.

    Being overweight is her passion. She loves herself and there is so much more of her to love. Unfortunately, her quality of life is disintegrating on ALL levels – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional. But she tries to fix it with spirituality and somehow ties the Rebbe into her self-destructive lifestyle.

  • 18. Sign me up wrote:

    This is great! I want to sign up with Sarah! This is just what I need! I need to check out her website and just do it! Maybe I’ll get a discount for posting this comment. Ahuvah G.

  • 19. #14 wrote:

    #14 needs to take her meds.

    Some mental problems need physical remedies (even pills).

    A web site geared towards Lubavitchers need not mention the Rebbe in every paragraph of every article at least three times. Failing to do so, is not avoidance but simply being being normal.

    Now take your meds and go to sleep.

  • 20. Shabbos is a blessing wrote:

    BH for Shabbos. At least we have to walk on Shabbos. And those of us who live up high have to walk upstairs. It is a hidden bracha. Of course if you have babies and cant go out on Shabbos, have your husband babysit for an hour and go for a walk or go toa shiur. It is a spiritual and physical fitness day.

  • 21. Nechama Dina wrote:

    What a beautiful article. I never realized the Torah requirement to work out. Seems like we all needed a little push to kept the mitzvah of exercise. Guess we are used to the food eating mitzvahs and don’t want to deal with the harder mitzvos. I hope she still has room because I am booking a twice a week session with sarah.

  • 22. down4cups wrote:

    Love the article. Booked a session today for Thursday afternoon. I just found out that a bunch of my friends are already enrolled in the exercise fitness center. This is amazing!!!!!

  • 23. To #14 wrote:

    I don’t recall the author claiming an eating disorder as a “physical maladie” or that exercise is a solution to everything. It seems that anyone with comprehension skills will realize that the point of the article is that exercise is a way to enhance your physical well-being.
    It seems that YOU are the “naive” and “ignorant” one. (And probably don’t exercise either.)

    As for Sarah, great article. Hope a lot of people can internalize.

  • 24. so true 14 wrote:

    i agree. its not like every fat person is machmir on keeping the rambam’s other halachos and just avoiding exercise. the root of the problem is spiritual and to treat as anything else is just avoiding the issue.

  • 25. RE: #14 wrote:

    The article is not suggesting excercise as a cure for those with eating disorders, they need to seek professional help. The article is stating that excercise can and will benefit the average peron who tends to be busy with kinderlach, shopping, and the plethora of responsibilities one has as the Akeres Habayis. I can elaboarate on the many benefits excercise accomplishes phyically, emotionally, mentally…. there are chemicals that are produced through excercise that have many benefits to ones overall health. Try it and you will see how it makes you feel. I’m talking from a bot of experience,it will be time very well spent and a great stress releaser.

  • 26. Wow Indeed! wrote:

    To #14:

    Having a rough day? Broke the scale this morning? Neglecting one’s health is the first step in neglecting G-d. We are formed in the image of our creator and we must maintain that image!

    There is nothing incompatible with maintaining one’s health and serving hashem. They, in fact, complement each other. No mashpia in the world will ever tell you that exercise is hepech frumkeit!

    In the Rebbe Rashab’s Tomchei Temimim the bochurim would go swimming on Friday afternoons! Today’s mivztoim is no different with bochurim running from office to office and up and down stairs in buildings and in the subway.

    Sarah, thanks for bringing awareness to this most important topic!!!

  • 27. Devorah Weinberg wrote:

    I love working out with Sarah. Usually I make commitments to workout but don’t end up keeping them. This is why I joined Sarah’s fitness program. It was the best decision I could of ever made. Its a top of the line work out with great outcomes. Couldn’t do it without her. Thanks!!!

  • 28. #14 Right On wrote:

    Excellent point #14!! As the mother of two teenage daughters who have battled eating disorders, I couldn’t agree more! Exercise is no substitute for intensive mental therapy. Women and girls need to be comfortable with their own bodies before using exercise as a health benefit. Without that grounding, you are moving on a slippery slope that can chas v’shalom exacerbate an already dangerous situation — Telling a person who thinks she’s obese despite being a size 4 to jump on a treadmill will not address the underlying illness!!

    I’m frankly shocked that a fitness professional would advocate exercise to supplant psychiatric therapy in these cases.

  • 29. E Goldberg wrote:

    When my sister got engaged I knew I had to look for a dress. I found one that was a smaller size with the goal to lose the weight. Baruch Hashem for sarahs gym and program, I lost it in time for the wedding.

  • 30. mushky - fan of the program wrote:

    #11 – Exercise
    You need to hit the here button at the end of the article, it will take you to http://www.facebook.com/per

    I am also a personal trainer in Long Island. I have had customers which moved to Long Island which worked with Sarah. She has a great system which works for weight loss, toning as well as advice on eating habits and home exercise. I know call Sarah for advice with my clients.

  • 31. to LEAH wrote:

    Your not doing the right exercise if you need 90 minutes a day. Yes 90 minutes would be most effective. But ify ou do the right workout – 30 minutes a day could be very effective too.

    Efficiency over length of time…

  • 32. response to Leah wrote:

    I used to think the same as you. I would work out for a half hour or so and see no results. This is why i got a personal trainer and now I do the same 30 minutes and I accomplish more then what I would if I worked out the 90 minutes myself. Maybe try the author of the article and see if she has any availability. I tried one session and I was hooked once I saw the results.

  • 33. DaasTorah wrote:

    Every yeshiva must implement a daily physical exercise program for every talmid. No exceptions! There needs to be at least one hour of “recess” for every talmid. During this time they need to run around, go wild, and go nuts! They don’t realize it’s exercise but it is! Any yeshiva that doesn’t provide this for their talmidim are committing a major aveirah and are damaging the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of our children.

  • 34. yossi wrote:

    I am amale only Chabad trainer in Australia, and I encourage you Sarah to keep up your superb work.
    You and I need to keep changing lives and behaviour, one person at a time.

  • 35. #31 wrote:

    31 wrote “30 minutes a day could be very effective too”, rubbish. You are not doing the right exercise! Efficiency over length of time…maybe you should use the “microwave exercise method” – 30 seconds of exercise is all you need. Oh, and do you believe in the Tooth Fairy too?

  • 36. Need 411 wrote:

    Can someone please post the number to call to book sessions with Sara? I am desperate and need to start taking control of my life TODAY. Help, what’s her number?

  • 37. #20 wrote:

    A person who is (enviously) a size 4 is indeed not obese, BUT can be VERY out of shape and would likely benefit immensely from jumping on the treadmill. Exercise is not ONLY for weight loss – it’s for health. Obesity is simply one sign of an unhealthy lifestyle. There are other signs too, such as feeling tired, weak, lethargic and lack of energy. Also, being often ill, feeling unwell, respiratory illnesses and constantly sick. Also, digestive issues, constipation, stomach aches etc.

    Everyone needs to be more active these days because our lives are less active than our ancestors, example, we don’t chop wood for our ovens or draw our drinking water from the well.

  • 38. Bigger body = Bigger soul wrote:

    In chassidic literature it states: The soul fills the body.

    Therefore: If you have a bigger body, you have a bigger soul.

    As such: Exercise decreases the body which decreases the soul.

    In other holy books it says: Making the body work hard and strengthening the body weaken the soul.

    Draw your own conclusions!

  • 39. A Mother wrote:

    As a mother, the best gift I can give my daughter is to sign her up with Sarah for bi-weekly workouts.

    It will give my daughter energy, self- confidence, a better figure, popularity, health benefits etcetera etcetera.

    I love my daughter and I can’t afford not to sign her up.

  • 40. Reply to #37 wrote:

    #37, you invite us to draw our own conclusions. I conclude that your elevator doesn’t reach the top floor and you are a few sandwiches short of picnic.

    You state that bigger is better. Super-size yourself as much as you can but don’t preach it to others.

    Go shop for a new dress in a tent store. Make sure they don’t mistakenly think you are the Good Year blimp. Children point at you, “Momma! Look! They let the elephant out of the zoo!” Airlines charge you for two seats and consider you over-weight luggage.

    In other holy books it says:

    The word for “healthy” in Hebrew is beri’ut (from the root “to create”).

    It is taught that every person is responsible for the well-being of their bodies, and are required to seek medical assistance when needed.

    A body is merely on loan by Hashem and therefore must be kept virtuous and healthy.

    This is a VERY important topic and we should ALL thank the Author for publishing it. But now, let’s all stop typing and start exercising – sign up for a session with Sarah TODAY!!!

  • 41. exercise for whom? wrote:

    I was clinically depressed for 8 yrs and thought that losing weight would help so I began jogging home 3 kilometers from work every afternoon. Well I soon began eating one meal a day, became anorexic and dropped to 40 kilos (yikes) and needed serious counseling. Sarah, I ‘listened’ to the Rambam and exercised but my problem was much deeper than a spare tire. I actually believed I was ugly and useless and couldn’t see the real me. All the right exercise in the world couldn’t overcome years of bullying and playground attacks and the effect it had on my psyche.

    It pains me to see a supposedly frum maidle playing on people’s weaknesses to increase business. Your brand of exercise is not for everyone and certainly not *required* for anyone with an eating disorder.

  • 42. Happy Client wrote:

    As a client of Sarah’s, I can say she’s really great and very effective in keeping me in shape! Her number is 847-852-6408 or check out her page at http://www.facebook.com/per… Way to go!

  • 43. Charlatanism at its finest wrote:

    OMG where is the disclaimer? What happened to please consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. Sarah Schochet is a dangeous charlatan and needs to stop pedaling her services on desperate people. Eating disorders are serious matters and can’t be solved in 30 minutes a day with a personal trainer. She is not a board certified psychologist, does not have a medical license and is in absolutely no position to offer mental health advice. If you give her money you are only perpetuating the problem!! Please, if you have a mental illness, don’t be taken by some quasi-frum dope posing as your savior. Seek expert help from a medical professional!!!

  • 44. To Charlatanism at its finest wrote:

    “Where is the disclaimer” – here, let me write a “disclaimer” for you:

    “This website is NOT for people who are clinically depressed, are suffering from mental health issues and/or are retarded. If you fit into any of these categories, slowly shut down the computer and keep away from sharp objects until help arrives.”

    On second thought, forget about disclaimers. Clearly, the writer and the individuals whom she addresses are indeed in a “special class” of their own, and I agree with the concluding sentence, that they should immediately: “Seek expert help from a medical professional!!!”

  • 45. To #39 & #40 wrote:

    Those with mental illnesses MUST seek trained professional help in that field.

    However, most of us are not clinically ill, depressed or suffering from eating disorders.

    As far as most of us are concerned, we are just plain FAT.

    We simply are inactive and lead a sedentary lifestyle.

    We are simply out of shape and need more exercise.

    Sarah can help us, the vast majority of us ladies and girls!

    The sick (mentally and spiritually) R”L among us need another kind of help.

    Let’s not confuse the otherwise healthy majority of us with the few who are sick.

  • 46. Appalled at #41 wrote:

    You are calling someone a “charlatan” for writing about the importance of taking a 30-minute walk? REALLY? Get up and walk instead of spending your time bashing people who are only suggesting you increase your quality of life.
    Yasher Koach to Sarah.

  • 47. Couch Potato wrote:

    Does typing comments on CrownHeights.Info count as exercise? My fingers are getting a work out!

  • 48. To exercise for whom? at 39 wrote:

    You claim that you were clinically depressed for 8 yrs. Can I tell you a little secret? You STILL ARE! But why must you infect us with your illness? Depression is contagious and those who have it like to spread it so that others will be on the same page as them.

  • 49. Couch potato wrote:

    Men, this is terrible! If the women start getting into shape, the next thing you know, they will be shlepping us on power walks down Eastern Parkway.

    And that’s not all!

    They will start changing the menues in the kitchen and they will put us on a #@$% (excuse me for using a four letter word and if any children are reading this – please shut your eyes…) a DIET, chas v’sholem rubashkin!

    Oy vay! Soon at kiddushim they will serve whole wheat cakes made from spelt flour! The world is coming to an end! The sky is falling!

  • 50. Touch my toes - LOL wrote:

    Bend down and touch my toes. Are you kidding me? I have a big stomach in the way and I haven’t seen my toes in years. I’m not even sure I still have toes.

    It’s easy to get down on the ground, going down is easy. I’m good at doing “down” – like laying down, sitting down…but I don’t do “ups” – no push ups, chin ups or any other ups.

    Does Crown Heights really need an exercise lady? We need more pizza shops, ice cream stores, bakeries, restaurants…THAT’S WHAT WE NEED!

    I protest this entire exercise mishugas!

    As long as everyone else was much fatter than me, compared to all of you – I looked okay, but if everyone is working out and getting in shape, it will make me look bad.

    That is not fair! It is a chutzpah for you to look and feel better than me! It is not right!! I protest!!!

  • 51. CRA wrote:

    Sarah is wonderful to work out with. I had a similar situation to #21 where I wanted to fit into a dress better… I did it in 3 weeks! You can do it too!

  • 52. Mindy wrote:

    Wow what a work out! Every muscle! A few of these and the spare tire will be flat. Thanks Sarah! My sister and I are grateful!!!

  • 53. 4 sessions = 4 pounds wrote:

    Finished four sessions and guess what? I am down FOUR POUNDS! My dress is looser and I am looking forward to losing more pounds. This is terrific! Thanks Sarah Schochet!

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