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.