Let’s Talk Exercise, No Time Is No Excuse

by Shmarya Richler

By now you are eating less vitamin K and have cut down on your portion size. Apparently knish sales are down 50%. So now, let’s talk about the other component of a healthier lifestyle. The Rambam says in Hilchos Deos (4:2) that it is incumbent upon us to do some sort of sweat inducing exercise in the morning. I call it sweat shel Mitzvah! Did you know that exercise is the best doctor? Or, that exercise helps you lose weight? Yes, it’s only about 15% of the equation but the positive energy and discipline you get from exercise helps you on your journey. Or maybe you don’t need to lose weight. Exercise is a must for everyone.

First let’s address the number one excuse that people provide when told to exercise.

“I don’t have time”

It’s true. I’m not going to argue with you. We have families, responsibilities, jobs etc. It’s a fast-paced world we live in and it’s hard to juggle all of it. And now Shmarya is going to tell me to spend 30 minutes a day exercising!!  Really!  A regular exercise program takes time. It takes commitment. It takes the 3 P’s I mentioned in my last article. Persistence, patience, and perspiration. I just don’t have the time! Change is not easy. Just think about someone who is told “Eat Kosher, it’s not that hard”! 

I will tell you this. You are looking at it the wrong way. 

Exercise is not an “expense”. It’s an investment that pays back with interest. No Heter Iska is necessary! The 30 minutes you spend exercising will be gained back during your day. You will be more productive; you will not feel sleepy in the afternoon, your brain will be sharper, and after a long day at work you’ll be less tired and grumpy. Also, you’ll sleep better at night. Did you ever struggle with a Tosfos or Sichah at 10:00PM only to understand it perfectly when looking at it in the morning? Well, think of your whole day like that. Those 30 minutes of heart rate pumping in the morning will translate into one hour of time savings throughout your day. So, you’ve gained 30 minutes not “lost” them.

I know what you are thinking. “That’s all fine and good but I don’t have the 30 minutes to spare”. Oh, please! Let’s get real. What about the 20 minutes you spend in or after shul solving the world’s problems?? Or the time you spend checking social media on your phone?? Or the time you spend at the meat section choosing the best steak?? Most people have some semblance of being awake for 18 hours a day. That’s 1,080 minutes. I’m sure you can find 30 minutes somewhere in there.

And here’s another excuse. “I walk around all day at work, so that’s enough”. Fantastic. You are one of those who has a job that requires you to get out of your chair. That’s certainly good but is it enough? Probably not. It’s like saying that I have fulfilled my Limud Torah obligation by reciting Birchas Hashachar in the morning. You have to get the heart rate up. Walking around at your job does not do that. It is better than nothing but it’s not enough.

Now that we got past the two most common reasons/excuses let’s talk about starting an exercise program. The first thing you must do is decide what sort of exercise you want to do. There are lots of options. You could go it alone (like me), you could go to a gym, you could join a group who meet regularly in members homes, you could take up biking, running, swimming, or walking. Maybe a treadmill or recumbent bike works for you. Everyone is different. You should choose something that you think you can stick to in the long run. Walking is probably the easiest and most accessible. Either outdoors or on a treadmill. Maybe you even have a treadmill that you bought and used for a week. In that case take your shirts and pants off it and start using it for what it was designed for.

Whatever you do start slowly. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’ll use walking as an example. It doesn’t involve a huge expenditure in dollars and time. Get a pair of good walking shoes. That’s important. Start with a route of about 1 or 2 miles. If you are in Crown Heights a walk from Kingston and Eastern Parkway to halfway between Nostrand and Rogers is ½ mile. Walk until Washington Avenue and you’ve covered one mile. Pick up your pace a little so you are walking faster than you normally would. In the beginning you may need to slow down at times. As you do it more often you will see that you don’t need to slow down as often. And then one day you will be walking the whole distance at a fast pace. You could try using time as a motivator. Maybe once a week time your walk. See if you can improve your time the next week. Who knows? Maybe at one point you’ll want to add some running to the mix. Talk to me if you are ready for that. 

Another suggestion would be to use time as your measurement instead of distance. That is, walk the same amount of time every day. You could use an app (Strava, MapMyWalk etc). For example, 30 minutes. Use the app to track your distance and see if you can go further after a few days.

How often? Well, that depends on you. Every day (except Shabboss etc) would be optimal but 4 days per week would be great. Aim for about 150 minutes per week. Maybe on Sundays you can go for a longer time.

Another thing that helps while exercising is listening to music or to a podcast. You can listen to a shiur, a Sicha, anything. There are countless apps and podcasts available these days. Maybe you could do your Rambam. That way, you wouldn’t fall asleep while doing it at night. If you do I urge you to get head phones that allow you to hear your surroundings. Don’t use headphones that cancel out all the surrounding noise. It’s dangerous. I use Aftershokz bone conducting headphones. They sit outside my ears and allow me to hear everything going on around me. In fact, I can have a conversation while I run. If you are using Ipods then consider only using one while you are out there.

Here are some other things you can do during your day that will give you some exercise. Again, I stress that you need to do something that raises your heart rate, but these tips will keep you moving.

If you have an appointment on the fifth floor, take the stairs instead of an elevator. Or maybe take the elevator to the third or fourth floor and the stairs to the fifth.

When you go to the mall park as far as you can from the store you are visiting.

If you travel by air. Instead of sitting at the gate get up and walk up and down the concourse.

If you have a desk job, get up and walk around every so often. Or get a standing desk. I have one that I can raise and lower with the push of a button.

Here’s another benefit of doing exercise on a regular basis. You will have an easier time getting rid of extra weight. The discipline you develop exercising will spill over into your eating habits. Just don’t make the mistake of calorie counting. Just because your treadmill says that you’ve burned 400 calories does not give you license to eat that second helping! And who knows? I’m not an insurance expert but maybe you can lower your medical insurance costs by having better health numbers. 

Here’s something I can tell you. You can do this. I know you can.  Do it for two weeks and you will start noticing a difference. The hardest part is starting but once you do it will become routine and will be something you look forward to every day. 

Believe me when I say that I am talking from personal experience. And those two excuses I mentioned above. That was me 7 years ago! 

Feel free to write to me if you have any questions. I can be reached at health@richler.org

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