It has been nearly a year since I started Jump Into Shape (www.jumpintoshape.fun) , a men’s fitness program in a tzanua atmosphere, and my experience has taught me that the main reason people don’t exercise is that they “don’t have time.” Many people stop me on the street to tell me that they want to come to a class, but the current class schedule conflicts with their commitments. Yet I find that even if I schedule a class at the exact day and time that these people told me they could come, they still claim that they are unavailable. Is it really a lack of time or is it something else?
The Torah commands us וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד (greatly guard your wellbeing), which is expanded upon to command us to watch out for one’s health. Of course, regular check-ups with the doctor are important, but they, by themselves, are not how we guard our health on a consistent basis. We also must incorporate day-to-day healthy living, including a balanced diet, an exercise regimen, and an effort to minimize sedentary activities. The connection between daily and annual trips to the doctor as two parts of a healthy whole can perhaps be gleaned from Parshas Pinchas and the details of the different korbanot (offerings). The Torah first introduces the daily offering and then all the periodic offerings (Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, etc.). However, after each special offering, the Torah repeats the need to bring the daily offering, also. While we don’t have korbanot today, we have other ways of demonstrating this connection to Hashem. The daily avodat Hashem (though chesed, tefillah, learning, etc.) helps raise our baseline holiness and sharpens our appreciation of the less-frequently available mitzvot, like eating matzah at the Seder, hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and fasting on Yom Kippur. Similarly, a daily awareness of keeping a healthy diet and exercising increases our general health so the annual physical—blood work, blood pressure and heart rate—allows us to reach even greater health.
When someone tells me that he doesn’t have time to work out, I talk to him about this and often find that it’s not a matter of time, per se, but rather a lack of prioritizing the Torah’s commandment of וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד. No one ever told me that he didn’t have time to keep Shabbos, build a sukkah, or have a Seder, because those things were viewed as essential and non-negotiable. Somehow, health is not viewed on that same level. I know that it seems like I am comparing apples to oranges, however the Rambam writes in Hilchos De’ot (4:1) that “maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of God, for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator if he is ill; therefore he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger.” The Rambam (who was a doctor) is teaching us to maintain a healthy body in order to do all the mitzvot in service of our Creator (who gave us our body). When we live a healthy life it can lead to more energy in davening, parenting, learning and even add years to our lives, more time to pass on the mesorah to future generations.
Hashem tells us to guard our lives, and the Rambam explains explicitly that a healthy body is necessary to serve Him, so what is really stopping people from leading healthier lives and exercising more? I believe a misallocation of time due to a lack of proper priority setting is at work. It is true that each person has many commitments (personal, family, professional, community, etc.), and it appears that there is no time left to exercise regularly (note: regular exercise can even be once a week, see Bava Kama Mishna 4:2 for definition of “Mu’ad”). “Appears” is the key word here. Laura Vanderkam, time management specialist, suggests putting priorities, like health and exercise, into our schedules first. If you sign up for an exercise class and pay in advance you have now made this a priority, and when something else comes up you can confidently say “I am unavailable at that time”—because you have established your health as a prior commitment. She also suggests writing down multiple priority lists (such as “professional,” “Avodas Hashem,” and “self”), with at least two to three items in each list, and planning these things first for the upcoming week(s). She notes there are 168 hours in a week to use effectively. If a person works for 50 hours (including commuting), davens for 20, sleeps for 56, there are still 42 hours left! In those 42 hours there is plenty of time to do things on any priority list. I will conclude with a practical example and solution from my own home.
For a while, my wonderful wife said, “I don’t have time to jump rope, but I really want to and I know I should exercise more.” In order to address this priority to live a healthier life to serve Hashem and have more energy to do all the things she does every day, she decided to wake up earlier two days during the week to jump in our home. She realized that this would mean some things she tries to do at night wouldn’t get done so she could get to bed earlier, in order to jump in the morning, but in return she found the workout was so uplifting that she had increased her energy during the day and didn’t even need her morning coffee to wake her up.
I give us all a bracha to set our proper priorities weekly to make time for them and to take Hashem’s words of וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד seriously in order to increase the quality and quantity of our life and mitzvot we perform.
To learn more about Jump Into Shape, please visit www.jumpintoshape.fun.
Russell Moskowitz is the founder of Jump Into Shape, a men’s fitness program committed to building a better guf for your neshama. Jump Into Shape offers in-person and live-streaming jump rope classes and health and fitness education for the Orthodox community.