None of us need to be blasted by guilt or bombarded by statistics on clergy health. Most of us are well-supplied with mirrors, scales and our own denominational experts. The reality is that over 60% of the U.S. population and over 75% of U.S. clergy are overweight.

Would you like to become more physically fit? To say “You Can Go from Spud to Stud” seems lame but it’s true. I began with this simple plan as a paunchy, but lovable, 205-pound pastor in January, 1987. By December, 1987, I had dropped 40 lbs. Ever since, I’ve remained a trim, hopefully still loveable, 165 lbs.

Step #1: See Your Doctor

If you are interested in beginning a walking or running program to improve your health and fitness, you will want to consult with your physician. Particularly if you haven’t been engaged in much regular fitness activity, schedule a routine physical and discuss any health concerns with your doctor before you chart your new fitness goals.  

Step #2:  Read All About It

After meeting with your physician, if you decide that walking or running fits with your fitness goals, you will likely have several “how to” questions. Thankfully, there are many fine books and websites which offer important tips for new runners, including Galloway’s Book on Running (Shelter, 2002). Monthly magazines like Runner’s World may also be helpful.

Step #3: Get the Right Shoes

If you are a beginning fitness runner or walker, you will be miles ahead by purchasing a good pair of running or walking shoes from knowledgeable experts. Buy a pair that provides good fit, comfort and protection with the right blend of cushioning, stability or motion control.  Be prepared to spend $100 or more. A high-quality pair of running shoes should last up to 500 miles. It’s the only essential equipment you will need, so it’s money well spent.

Step #4:  Start Smart

Just as a toddler must walk before she can run, you need to develop your strength and endurance by walking before you begin running. You may want to begin by simply walking around the block, walking an indoor track, walking the indoor corridors in a shopping mall.

Begin with fifteen minutes of daily walking. Add five additional minutes of walking every other day. Soon you’ll be walking thirty minutes at a time. In your third week of walking, you may want to increase the length of your walks by five minutes every other day so that you are walking for 45 minutes at a stretch as you begin your fourth week of walking. Adjust the length of your walks and your walking pace according to your goals as you continue your healthful new habit into month two and beyond.

Step #5: Steady and Stronger

If you are interested in fitness running, one of the best ways to begin is to combine walking with jogging. Once you have walked daily for at least two weeks, and you are comfortable walking briskly for thirty minutes at a time, you can begin a walk/run ratio of walking for four minutes, then jogging for two minutes. Initially you will be walking a total of twenty minutes and jogging for ten minutes during the allotted half-hour. During the second week, walk three minutes and then run three minutes. During the third week, run four minutes and walk two minutes. During the fourth week, run five minutes and walk one minute. After a month of walking, jogging and running, you’ll be running for 25 minutes and walking for five minutes during your half-hour of fitness training.

Step #6: Stay Smart and Steady

After your first month of running, do not increase the total length of time or the total distance in miles that you run or walk by more than ten percent over the previous week. Don’t do too much, too fast, too soon, or else you may be too injured or too tired to run! Be sure to incorporate good nutrition, adequate rest, sufficient warm-up and proper post-run stretching within your running program. If you do, you will be reaching your initial fitness goals in a matter of months.

Step #7:  Develop Running Relationships

Studies indicate that those who undertake a health and fitness program are more likely to “stick with it” long-term when they have the support and accountability of a friend. When two friends share a common bond of faith, fitness times can also be faith-building times. Walking or running with a prayer partner will strengthen both of you physically and spiritually.

And, remember one more thing: go easy on the mayo.

–Gary Bruland is pastor of the West Shore Baptist Church, Camp Hill, Penn. He is an avid marathon runner and author of Running Well or Running Ragged? (Lulu, 2006).

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