Focusing on Family Fitness
September 1990

“Focusing on Family Fitness,” Ensign, Sept. 1990, 28

Handbook for Families

Focusing on Family Fitness

Dad has a report to finish for his job that will require more than eight hours of work tomorrow, so he will leave early for the office. Mom has her own schedule to balance. Before going to her afternoon volunteer task at school, she has to finish visual aids for tomorrow night’s Homemaking lesson. While she teaches her lesson tomorrow night, Dad will divide his time between going with Joanie to parent-teacher conferences at the junior high school and attending Robert’s play at the elementary school. Of course, he will also be minding the twins.

Sometimes it seems we just couldn’t pack more into any given day. So how can we fit in time to walk—or jog, swim, bicycle, jump, dance—just for fun and fitness? And why should we?

The answer is that regular exercise can prepare us physically, mentally, and spiritually to function better, whether it’s in our relationships with others or in our all-important relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Doctors frequently recommend exercise even for patients with some kinds of physical limitations, because of its physical and psychological benefits. There is evidence that exercise can also slow down the effects of aging and build the body’s defenses against disease and emotional stress. As far as spiritual benefits, Heavenly Father will accept and reward our best efforts to improve ourselves, regardless of limitations imposed by disease, handicap, or age. (See Mosiah 4:27.)

Exercise? This body?

It’s apparent that if each of our bodies is a temple (see 1 Cor. 3:16–17), some of us have temples that look as if the maintenance crew retired three years ago; the noble spirits that inhabit them deserve a better place to dwell. And even if we feel that we’re in the same great shape as when we graduated from high school, we can make our lives better and teach our families valuable habits through regular exercise.

We have ample reason to recognize the care of our physical bodies as a spiritual obligation. “There is a close relationship between physical health and spiritual development,” Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Quorum of the Twelve counseled during October 1967 general conference. “When one’s physical health is impaired by disobedience to God’s eternal laws, spiritual development will also suffer.” (Improvement Era, Dec. 1967, p. 77.) He commented further: “We have the challenge; we ought now to concentrate on developing and improving our present physical house, which tabernacles a spirit child of God, and prepare it for eternal glory.” (Ibid., p. 75.)

There are two things we must keep in mind about exercise as we determine to become physically fit: First, exercise must be done regularly to be of value. An inconsistent exercise program can do more harm than good. Second, our conditioning programs should be tailored to our individual needs.

Those who haven’t been exercising regularly, especially if they are over thirty-five, should have a medical examination before beginning a conditioning program. Older family members or those with health and physical conditions that impose limitations can adapt exercise programs to their physical condition. Many doctors recommend moderate exercise for expectant mothers, both for physical well-being and to prepare the mother for the exertion of childbirth.

“But I can’t because …”

Sometimes the things we accept as limitations on our ability to exercise can be easily overcome if we think in terms of best use of our potential and our time.

Age is one example. One Church member in his mid-seventies walks whenever he can, bundling up properly against the cold in winter. Since he does not own a car, he makes his basic transportation—walking—a part of his planned exercise regimen. For the past several years, he has walked more than four hundred miles per year around his suburban area, winning the gold award offered through the Church’s Physical Fitness Awards Program. (Brochures explaining the awards program are available through Church distribution centers; stock no. PBAC0271.)

Neither does lack of time need to be a barrier to exercise. One man decided to exercise on a stationary bicycle while studying for an amateur radio license. Others have found time to ride exercise bikes or jog on mini-trampolines while watching the evening news or listening to scripture or self-improvement tapes. It is entirely possible to learn while exercising.

Some members have found walking with their spouses or children a perfect time to improve their relationships as couples or as parents. Others have found that walking, jogging, or riding alone (in a safe place) provides an invaluable time in which to meditate and resolve problems. Sometimes it seems the invigoration of exercise opens the mind more to the voice of the Spirit.

How do we start?

If Dad and Mom want Joanie, Robert, and the twins to exercise, then the parents will have to lead by example. Children will learn about the need for physical activity the same way they learn about integrity, moral purity, reverence, and love—by seeing good parental role models.

Experts in family fitness suggest that it probably won’t work to simply send the children out to exercise. It will be much more effective to say, “I’m going out bicycling (or for a walk). Anyone want to come?” (See A. Garth Fisher and Robert K. Conlee, The Complete Book of Physical Fitness, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young Univ. Press, 1979, p. 115.) As with reading instead of watching television, children are likely to participate in those things they see their parents do—especially if it means an opportunity to be with Mom or Dad.

What kind of exercise?

A rounded program of physical conditioning should include flexibility and strength exercises as well as activities that increase cardiovascular endurance. It is not difficult to find information about conditioning programs in today’s fitness-conscious society; any number of publications can help families and individuals get started. One good program is described in the Physical Fitness, Sports, and Recreation Manual for Church programs, available through distribution centers (stock no. PBAC0158).

Cardiovascular exercise is an important phase of any fitness program because it helps condition the body to circulate oxygen more efficiently. A good cardiovascular conditioning program will raise the heart rate to a minimum conditioning level for at least fifteen minutes at least three times a week. Many sources, including the Physical Fitness, Sports, and Recreation Manual, offer charts showing what the minimum conditioning level should be (if there are no restrictive health conditions) for individuals by age. If you can’t find a chart, you can figure your recommended exercise heart rate by using this formula, given on page 7 in the manual:

  1. Find your resting heart rate. Take your pulse for one minute before you get up in the morning or after you have been at rest for two hours.

  2. Determine your maximum heart rate by the following formula: Subtract your age from 220 if you’re 11 or older (210 if you’re 10 or younger).

  3. Find your recommended exercise heart rate by multiplying .6 times your maximum heart rate minus your resting heart rate, then adding your resting heart rate to the result. For example, if your maximum heart rate is 180 and your resting heart rate is 70, the equation would be: [(180–70) x .6] + 70 = 136.

To avoid putting undue stress on the body, you should follow these procedures during each exercise session:

First, warm up with flexibility exercises;

Second, perform exercises for strengthening and toning muscles;

Third, participate in vigorous cardiovascular endurance activities for fifteen minutes or more;

Fourth, “cool down” by continuing your activity at a slower pace, allowing the heart rate to decrease.

Each individual in the family should begin slowly to find which exercises bring the best results. No two people will be at the same fitness level, and different individuals will progress at different rates. No one should be expected to perform at someone else’s level. Instead, each family member should be allowed to progress at a level that builds fitness without robbing the physical activity of enjoyment.

The effects of food

The foods we eat, and the way we prepare and eat them, have a high impact on our physical fitness. Briefly, here is what experts recommend about what we eat as it affects our fitness:

Meals should be well balanced, simple, low in fat, and high in complex carbohydrates (such as potatoes, cereals, and grains). Proportionately, our mix of calories should be about 50 to 60 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 15 percent protein, and 20 to 30 percent fat. By way of contrast, it has been estimated that the average North American’s diet is about 40 percent fat.

More extensive information about nutrition can be found through libraries, schools, personal physicians, clinics, and a variety of health organizations.

Fit for life

Achieving physical fitness cannot be a short-term goal—something to be completed this year, or even over the next five years. It should be a lifelong pursuit—a part of daily living. The habit of regular exercise is one of the most useful gifts we can give ourselves and our children.

That habit is forged most effectively as families exercise together in fun activities. The family may exercise together in their backyard or at a park or high school track. Some might jog while others—according to their interests—bounce balls, jump rope, or dance. Sometimes family exercise sessions like these can be done to preselected music, with everyone participating until the music stops.

Fitness can be encouraged at home without the need to buy expensive, fancy equipment. Parents can provide an assortment of balls in different sizes, perhaps a hoop on the garage or side of the house for shooting baskets, or jump ropes. With this simple equipment, children can occupy themselves for long periods of time in games and individual play that require physical activity. If more sophisticated equipment is desired—a stationary bicycle, mini-trampoline, or weight set—it can often be obtained as a family gift for a special occasion.

Having children in the home is often the best motivation for adults to start a regular family physical fitness program. Without children at home, it may be a little harder to convince yourself to begin—and continue—such a program. For that reason, it is important to select a type of exercise you like. Almost everyone enjoys some type of physical activity; it does not have to be the latest exercise fad in order to be beneficial, so long as it helps build cardiovascular endurance.

It is also important to make the exercise sessions enjoyable. They can be a time to listen to scripture tapes, enjoy favorite music or television programs, or to be with those we love. Whatever the approach, when we think of our exercise sessions as a needed gift we are giving ourselves, it becomes much easier to follow through regularly with them.

Photography by Steve Bunderson