Three years ago, I hated working out. I had always played sports, but outside of practice, I felt lost exercising on my own. I couldn’t keep myself motivated without my coaches and teammates. When the pandemic forced me to spend a lot of my high school senior year alone, exercise became my outlet. Working out became an essential part of my day. I soon realized my exercise practice made me feel strong, gave me energy, and allowed me important “me-time.”
Now that I’m in college, I still turn to exercise as an outlet for expressing myself and managing stress. However, as I navigate the challenges college constantly throws my way, my faith life and relationship with God have become another important outlet. Going to a religious college gives me so many opportunities to grow and connect with others my age about my Catholic faith. My recent deeper connection with my religion had me wondering how I could use my “me-time” while working out as a way to further grow my relationship with God. It all started when someone introduced the concept of “offering it up” when I realized that I might be able to combine worship with working out.
Here are some ways I’ve tried to exercise my spirituality while I exercise my body:
Playing Christian music
I honestly used to hate church music because (to me) it was cheesy and usually involved an organ (organs and running don’t typically mix). When my AirPods died during a rough 5-miler, I was on the struggle bus. For some reason, a song from church entered my mind. It was “Set a Fire” by Will Regan and I couldn’t get the lyric “I want more of you God” out of my head. I found myself mouthing the rest of the lyrics all the way home. It actually made me run faster because I was busy thinking about what God has given me: a beautiful sunrise, birds chirping, and my friends and family. Focusing on these blessings helps me distract from the pain of running. After that, my brother and I put together a playlist called “Catholic Bops” with all of the church songs that get stuck in our heads. We’ve recently been loving For King and Country.
A catchy worship or church song can serve as a reminder of the joy that comes from counting your blessings! This reminder helps me push through the worst moments (especially a hard run) by thinking about what makes me happy
Running without music
Hear me out. Running without music allows me some quiet time to focus on the present. I’m the type of person who’s constantly listening to music, but running without music helps my brain go still. I can focus on my breathing and clear my mind. I’m not wondering about the next song coming or how much longer the song (or the set or mile) is. I’m just worried about the now. This mindfulness practice gives way to talking to God about certain people I’ve been praying for, or asking my favorite saints for their intercession without distractions that usually enter my mind when I pray.
Offering it up
I didn’t hear this expression until my sophomore year of college and it changed my life. “Offering it up” is a way to make moments of your day more meaningful by bringing your suffering, embarrassment, pain, grief, or other moments and emotions as an offering to God. A friend of mine used the example of throwing a paper ball into a basket, missing it, and awkwardly picking it up in embarrassment as a perfect moment to “offer it up.” Or whenever I am procrastinating something, I offer up the time I spend working on it to God to make it more meaningful. This can apply to working out as well. Don’t feel like going to the gym? Offer it up and spend your gym time talking to God or jamming to Christian music. I’ve found that when I’m running up a hill near my college, I repeat the phrase “all for you” or “offering it up” and it makes running up hills much easier because I have a purpose for the struggle.
Appreciating the little things
This one is helpful if you work out outside or if your gym has lots of windows. Whether you are running, walking, biking, rollerblading, skipping, hiking, etc., take some time to notice parts of God’s creation that you normally wouldn’t. I like running at sunrise or sunset because I love looking at the colors. The oranges and pinks that I usually find in makeup, clothes, or on a screen are right there in the sky created by God. I also like looking at the birds or noticing the turtles sunbathing on the rocks in the park by my house. Noticing the little things while working out can help remind you of the beauty of God’s creation.
Incorporating these tips has given even greater meaning to my workout and has deepened my connection with God. Next time you work out, maybe leave your AirPods at home or try listening to worship music!