The expensive fitness-tracker watch I gave my wife Sandy for her birthday was on the bureau instead of her wrist. Was she abandoning our conjugal commitment to physical fitness? Maybe I should have given her a turbo-charged German vacuum cleaner instead. Or tapped into my flagging 401(k) and bought her a MINI Cooper. After all, it was a big birthday.
Once upon a time, this woman was obsessed with surpassing the American Heart Association’s recommended goal of walking 10,000 steps a day, and very often she tallied more than 20,000 steps by the time she put her head on the pillow. I don’t know how she did it, but I’m convinced she was motivated by an intense desire to outperform me.
Sometimes I’d find her running in place in the kitchen; other times, I’d go to bed and she’d still be exercising downstairs. For my part, I made an effort to put in as many steps during the workday so that I could satisfy the demands of my tracker by walking at least 250 steps an hour. I just hoped the boss wasn’t wondering about all that physical movement when I should have been chained to my work station.
OK, I admit that we’re both a little obsessive when it comes to exercise, but the experts say it adds years to your life.
One report I read from Dr. Oz — or maybe it was Dr. Phil or Dr. Seuss — said that regular exercise cuts the risk of colon cancer by 60 percent, the risk of Alzheimer’s by 40 percent, the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure by 40 percent and the risk of type II diabetes by 58 percent, along with preventing breast cancer and strokes. So why was her fitness watch on the bureau, instead of wrapped around her wrist so she could register her steps, heart rate, physical exertion, calories, stairs and miles?
“I’m tired of being a slave to a fitness tracker,” she said. “There are more important things in life.”
“What’s more important than taking care of your body?” I asked. The answer came to mind immediately — taking care of your soul. Your body dies. Your soul is immortal. Or to paraphrase Jesus, “Don’t worry about those who can harm the body, worry about those who can harm the soul.”
Can you imagine what saints we’d become if we put as much time and effort into spiritual exercise? My friends who wear fitness trackers are such fanatics they can’t resist boasting about their weekly progress. I wonder, however, whether they pay the same attention to their souls.
Not to boast — I’m boasting — but during one of my productive weeks, I logged 859 active minutes, 63.04 miles,133,446 steps, 23,497 calories and 158 floors. The thought of praying 859 minutes never crossed my mind. And what about spending an hour in eucharistic adoration or saying five decades of the rosary for 20 minutes or, most important of all, going to daily Mass?
With a program of regular spiritual fitness, I bet we could cut the risk of depression and anxiety by 75 percent, marital discord by 70 percent, family unrest by 65 percent, workplace agita by 63 percent, unhappiness by 85 percent, impurity by 80 percent and swearing by 95 percent.
Training our souls is far more important than exercising our bodies. Our bodies decay and die, but our souls last forever, so let’s do what’s necessary to get them in shape.
If we could see the condition of our souls, many of us would be shocked. I once read about a man who had a near-death experience and got a review of his life in intimate detail and suddenly realized he’d done the bare minimum for Christ. All that really had concerned him was making money, getting ahead and being a success in the eyes of the world. You might say he was a 98-pound spiritual weakling. The experience changed his life and his priorities.
I started to rethink my own goals. Instead of getting up at 4:25 a.m. to exercise before heading to the train for work, I got up at 4:25 and, in the silence of the morning, began to meditate and tried to listen to the still, small voice of God. I took out my rosary beads and said the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. On the way to the train station, I said the Joyful and Luminous Mysteries of the rosary. While I was on the train for the hourand-45-minute ride into the city, I said the Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries in addition to praying the Divine Office on my iPad.
At lunch, I crossed the street and went to midday Mass at St. Agnes. It certainly helped me during the workday. Whenever the challenges of the job or my co-workers or clients got a little too demanding and threatened to push me into emotional crisis, I said a prayer for peace ... and it was restored. The benefits were certainly there.
Cardio and weight training may help your body, but it’s good to remember the spiritual exercises that benefit your soul: prayer, fasting, meditation, sacrifices, Mass, eucharistic adoration and the rosary. I still exercise regularly, but now I’m more concerned about cracking a sweat ... spiritually.
JOE PISANI of Orange is a writer whose work has appeared in Catholic publications nationwide. He and his wife Sandy have four daughters.