Sunshine and Exercise: Monday Monologues, October 28, 2019 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

This morning I will share a prayer and reflect on Sunshine and Exercise.

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Sunshine and Exercise: Monday Monologues, October 28, 2019 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Sunshine and Exercise

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christwe rejoice in our sufferings, 

knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 

endurance produces character, and character produces hope 

(Rom 5:3-4)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In April 2019 after I published my book, Simple Faith, I was burned out. Physically and emotionally exhausted, my motivation also flatlined. I thought to myself, take it easy a couple weeks and you will bounce back. Weeks passed; no bounce back. Clearly, in my writing and editing this time I had pushed myself too far.

Burnout’s Physical Component

In June I returned to my usual swim routine of swimming half a mile a day. During my eight months of editing, I had often cheated on my routine swimming only a quarter mile to make more time to work. Besides, I thought, I am too distracted to concentrate on or enjoy my swim. 

Returning to my routine did nothing to relieve the burnout, but I noticed that my burnout was more pronounced in the evening, much like sunset dementia—a condition where Alzheimer’s patients manifest dementia more clearly when tired at the end of the day. At first this observation really bothered me—am I beginning to manifest Alzheimer’s disease, like my father or my grandmother? In prayer, I found the strength to take another interpretation. If burnout has a physical component, then a physical solution is warranted.

Negative Self-Talk

Initially, this insight helped little. I said to myself, what good is this? I barely have the energy to complete my workout, let alone step it up. One day in the gym, I even made fun of myself joking with a friend—what am I going to do, buy a pair of running shoes and start running intervals? Later, I was so embarrassed at myself. Then I thought, why not? I haven’t had a knee problem since the 1990s. Perhaps, I could cross train and avoid knee injuries.

Physical Training

In July I ordered a pair of running shoes online. The days after placing the order I was so uncertain about my ability to jog again that, when they arrived, I hid the shoes from my wife, thinking she would ridicule me for wasting my money on such a foolish idea. Still, I put on a new set of shorts and new tee-shirt and started jogging every other day. All along hoping that no one would see me.

To keep things easy, I began running intervals. Jog a hundred paces, then walk a hundred paces. Days became weeks. Now, three months into jogging I have abandoned running intervals to jog continuously at a slow pace.

As I write at the end of September, I have never felt better. Although my workout leaves me physically exhausted, the burnout has gone; my head is clear; and many of the old-age sorts of complaints have vaporized. 

Heart, Mind, and Body

The New Testament assumes that heart, mind, and body are inter-related parts of an undivided, unified whole that I have often described as Hebrew anthropology. The alternative is Greek anthropology where heart, mind, and body operate independently. 

Why did Jesus need to experience bodily resurrection after the cruxifixction? Jesus was not a ghost, that is, a spirit without a body, and he was not a zombie, a body without a spirit. Jesus rose from the dead—re-created whole—retaining physical scars, but displaying no emotional scars, as might be expected of a resuscitated body. Bodily resurrection exemplifies Hebrew anthropology because heart, mind, and body are interrelated, not separable in a complete, healthy person.

Sunshine and Exercise

I have often been chided for my advice to people depressed to get more sunshine and exercise, both natural anti-depressants. In my own burnout narrative, this advice worked but only after several months of effort.

The spiritual principle at work here, other than recognizing the importance of Hebrew anthropology, is that pain presents us with a Gethsemane moment. In our pain do we turn to God and give it over to him or do we turn into our pain and have a pity-party? (Matt 26:39) Elsewhere, Jesus says plainly: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38) 

In a world of chronic problems and endless ways to avoid pain, this teaching sounds harsh. Many friends and family members when hearing of my burnout have advised me to find a good counselor or simply to get my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants. Is sunshine and exercise a harsh response? Yes, it is harsh, almost masochistic. But if God communicates with us through our pain and we medicate our way through it, what have we learned and how has the experience transformed us?

Many answers can be given to our Gethsemane moments, but our responses ultimately define who we are as Christians, as the Apostle Paul suggests in the verses cited above.

Sunshine and Exercise

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Value Of Life

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Matthews Teaches Stretching

matthews_review_02142017Jessica Matthews. 2016. Stretching to Stay Young: Simple Workouts to Keep You Flexible, Energized, and Pain-Free. Berkeley: Althea Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In January as I proceeded to step up my daily exercise routine, a problem developed with tightness in my back, which quickly caused me to re-evaluate my fitness objective. Consulting with a friend who is a personal trainer, she advised me to revise my warm-up routine to lengthen my stretches and add a few new ones to my routine. It worked. My tightness relaxed; I am back to my new workout strategy; and I went looking for a book to learn more about stretches. My search led me to Jessica Matthews’ book: Stretching to Stay Young.


Matthews writes about having a similar experience as a fitness instructor, but observed: “Once I was stretching regularly, however, I began to move more easily—not just while exercising but in my everyday life as well. I increased my range of motion and fain immense flexibility, reducing the aches and pain I had become accustomed to.” (8-9) In my case, stretching not only helped me reduce tightness, it helped me workout harder and I ended up overdoing it a bit, which caused a different set of issues.

Benefits of Stretching

Matthews cites studies showing these benefits: decreased stiffness, improved function, reduced pain, enhanced performance, improved range of motion, improved balance, and decreased anxiety and depression (17). Medical benefits include reduced: stress, blood pressure and heart rate, breathing rate, and chronic back pain. (18) For me, these benefits have been real.

My basic warm up routine began in the summer of 2008 when I experienced several episodes of extreme, lower-back pain that left me unable to work—I had to lie on my back on the floor all day at one for three days running. On advice of my doctors, I began doing core exercises, which included stretching and Pilates, about seven days a week. After beginning this new warm up routine before swimming laps, I never again experienced that kind of pain and, with minor tweaks, I have continued this warm up routine since then.

Background and Organization

Matthews is located in San Diego, California and cites her background as:  Kinesiology Professor (Point Loma Nazarene University), Yoga Studies Professor (MiraCosta College), President & CEO of Integrative Wellness Education, Senior Advisor for Health & Fitness Education at American Council on Exercise (ACE), and a contributing editor at Shape Magazine.[1]

She writes her book in three parts—the science, the stretches, and the workouts—which are proceeded by an introduction and followed by lists of resource and references, and by a subject index. The book is printed on high-quality, rather stiff paper that might help the book survive a few trips to the gym. The illustrations are also large enough that you might be able to make out the routines without your glasses.


Jessica Matthew’s book, Stretching to Stay Young, is an interesting read. I loved to find that some of my stretches have catchy names like “Standing Crescent Moon” (74-75), “Bird Dog” (82-83) and “Figure 4” (92-93) and that I need to adjust my routine to do them correctly. The Standing Crescent Moon, for example, is best done as a static stretch, not a dynamic stretch (bobbing), while the Bird Dog is just the opposite, contrary in both cases to my current practice. I was also pleased to learn what people down at the gym are doing with foam rollers—exercising muscle attachments called fascia. If you are new to the proper way to do stretches, as I am, then this is a book that you want to check out.



Matthews Teaches Stretching

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Exercise Nuts Live Longer

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer Day 43: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Espera verano 2015

Almighty Father. We praise you for the gift of life. Walk with us on the beach in the morning. Run with us through peaceful cornfields in the night. Swim with us as we exercise bodies and minds. In the power of your Holy Spirit, transform us into your people. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso, te alabamos por el don de la vida. Camina con nosotros por la playa en la mañana. Corre con nosotros a través de los campos de maíz en la noche. Nada con nosotros mientras ejercitamos nuestros cuerpos y nuestras mentes. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, transfórmanos en Tu pueblo. En el nombre precioso de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Knopf Exercises Core for Health and Strength

Core_review_06082015Karl Knopf.  2012. Core Strength for 50+.  Berkeley:  Ulysses Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

In 2012 I worked for 3 months in an Alzheimer’s unit associated with a local hospital. One of the critical features of life in the unit was the question of mobility, strength, and stability. Loss of mobility was often the kiss of death because bed-ridden residents would suffer muscle atrophy, depression, and decline—even death. The triggering event is most frequently a fall. Consequently, physical therapy—usually simple exercises—was critical to health maintenance and longevity.

Interest in “core exercises” arose out of the increasingly sophisticated field of sports medicine. The core is “the region from the tops of the legs to the shoulder” (8). Just likely the elderly, professional athletes are prone to injury although they heal better than older people. National attention was drawn to core exercises in the early 1980s when it is was used San Francisco 49er quarterback, Joe Montana (9).

The motivation for adding core exercises to your routine arises because:

“Having an aligned and strong yet flexible core can take the load off the vertebral column and discs [lower back], which results in improved function and less discomfort and pain” (8).

The benefits of core exercises include both preventative and rehabilitation objectives:

“improved posture, which allows you to present a more youthful appearance [not bent over like many elderly people], and balance.  It also means less load on the lumbar region of your low back, reducing the risk of injury to any arthritic joints and discs in addition to pain.  Performance in sports and recreational pursuits is also boosted.” (13-14)

I wish that I had been introduced to such exercises as a young person because in junior high school I injured my back tube-surfing at the ocean and suffered severe lower back pain episodically ever since.  In 2008, the pain was so bad that I was on my back for 3 days in a row twice during the summer.  After visiting a back specialist, I added Pilates exercises, a kind of core exercise, before my daily swim[1].

Karl Knopf’s book, Core Strength for 50+, draws on the author’s experience with both the elderly and professional athletes. Knopf is a professor emeritus of Foothill College[2] and longtime director of senior fitness with the International Sports Science Association (127)[3].  He is also the author of numerous exercise books (125)[4].  Knopf divides his book into 3 parts:

  1. Getting Started
  2. The Programs and
  3. The Exercises (v).

His introduction is part of part 1.  Following part 3 are a topical index, acknowledgments, and a brief biography of the author.

Knopf divides core training into 4 stages:

  1. Leaning to contract deep-lying muscles.
  2. Focus on endurance of those muscles.
  3. Challenges to the core with arm motions. And
  4. Additional challenges to the core (14).

The attitude appropriate for these exercises is important.  Knopf sees these principles as key:

  • Concentration and perseverance.
  • Quality of movement is more important than quantity.
  • Slow, purposeful progression to more challenging movements. and
  • The ability to perform every action from a neutral spine (15).

This last point came as a surprise.  Knopf is very concerned with proper posture.  He writes:  “Learning to sit, stand, and move in the most biomechanical manner is foundational.” He advises: “If you want to look young, stand tall.” (16)  After reading this, I became very self-conscious how I walked…

The philosophy of core training is likewise a bit different.  Knopf writes:  “The key to a well-aligned core is to strengthen that which is weak and lengthen that which is inflexible.” (22)  The way this is done explains all the exotic equipment found around gyms these days—big round plastic balls, form rubber rollers, kettle bells, etc. Exercising with unstable surfaces, like doing push-ups with a plastic ball in one hand, engages more muscle groups in the core (23).

Karl Knopf’s book, Core Strength for 50+, is an interesting and helpful book.  Not only did reading it help me understand my own exercise routine—the Pilates—but I also appreciated the update on the exotic gym equipment.  Exotic no longer seems so exotic.

I have changed my exercise routine; you may too.



[2] 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA 94022.  (



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Why Exercise?

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Soccer, 1983
Stephen W. Hiemstra, Soccer, 1983

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:18–20)

Why Exercise?

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Which spiritual discipline should I focus on?

Sin distracts and separates us from God. The spiritual disciplines of highest value target sins to which we, as Americans, are especially vulnerable—sexual immorality and gluttony. Both are sins against the body.

Where Does Sin Begin?

Jesus is clear when he says that sin begins in the heart. On the question of adultery, he says: “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5:28) This statement is immediately followed by hyperbole about chopping off body parts that lead to sin [1]. This transition from heart to body is an example of how the body and mind are unified [2].

Unity of Body, Mind, and Spirit

The best example of the unity of body and mind applied to spiritual disciplines is found in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. Nouwen describes our spiritual journey as a unity of three dimensions—reaching inward to ourselves; reaching outward to others; and reaching upwards to God. In ourselves, we move from being lonely to becoming content in solitude. With our relationships with others, we move from hostility to hospitality. In our relationship with God, we move from illusion to prayer (Nouwen 1975, 15). The paradox of this unity in three dimensions is that progress in one dimension makes progress in the others easier.

Spiritual Movements

This linkage of spiritual progress in different dimensions is especially important in dealing with sins of the body. Sins against the body invariably involve mild to severe addictions—obsessive behaviors that we repeatedly engage in. When we allow ourselves our “little indulgences”, they spread to other aspects of our life. Bad behaviors turn into bad habits that turn into bad lifestyles. Undertaking a “fast” in vulnerable areas of our lives can nip bad behaviors early in the process. Gerald May (1988, 177) writes: “It all comes down to quitting it, not engaging in the next addictive behavior, not indulging in the next temptation.” Physical discipline, accordingly, works to cleanse the whole system.

Why exercise?

The simple answer is because your body is the temple of God. We are under obligation to ourselves and to God to keep our temple clean. A more nuanced answer is that the physical disciplines grant us strength to discipline other, less obvious, areas of our lives. The body and the mind are inseparable—physical exercise is a kind of beach assault on our island of sin [3]. Beach assaults, like the one on Iwo Jima during the Second World War [4], are risky but the payoff is huge. Ironically, when we exercise we often exhibit less interest in food, alcohol, even tobacco because we are more relaxed and self-confident.


In clinical pastoral education we were taught to look for dissidence between words and the body language of patients that we visited. This disharmony between words and body language is, of course, a measure of truth. In like manner, the biblical paradigm of beauty is that the truth of an object matches its appearance [5]. Did I mention that body and mind are closely bound together?


[1]  I wonder, which body part is really in view here?

[2] Macchia (2012, 104) writes: “Your personal rule of life is formatted and reflected in your . . . physical priorities (the care and training of your body, mind, and heart).”

[3] Reynolds (2012), who writes almost exclusively on a biblical perspective on weight-loss, notes that the first sin in the Bible is a temptation involving food (Gen 3:1–6).

[4]  Japan is a family of islands. In February 1945, United States amphibious forces landed on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. There they engaged the Japanese military in one of the bloodiest battles during the war.

[5] “Our modern images feature surface and finish; Old Testament images present structure and character. Modern images are narrow and restrictive; theirs were broad and inclusive…For us beauty is primarily visual; their idea of beauty included sensations of light, color, sound, smell, and even taste” (Dyrness 2001, 81).


Dyrness, William A. 2001. Visual Faith: Art, Theology, and Worship in Dialogue. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Macchia, Stephen A. 2012. Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

May, Gerald G. 1988. Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions. New York: HarperOne.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1975. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: DoubleDay.

Reynolds, Steve and MG Ellis. 2012. Get Off the Couch: 6 Motivators to Help You Lose Weight and Start Living. Ventura: Regal.


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