Did you know that clergy, in general, suffer higher rates of obesity, arthritis, heart problems, high blood pressure and mental health problems and stress than many other professions?
Many clergy find it is so very difficult to maintain a work/life balance. I am a Priest for the Church of England contracted to work two days per week plus Sunday services in my Parish. The honest reality is that I can often find myself working up to nine days in a row without a day off! The majority of clergy live ‘on the job’. They are constantly in receipt of emails, texts, phone calls and, of course, knocks on the door. It’s also true that we frequently feel guilty for taking any time off, even a day, especially when, if a text or email is not responded to immediately, it is re-sent by whoever is trying to get in touch!
In the past year, so much has had to been done virtually – meetings on Zoom are not the easiest to Chair and sitting hour on hour in front of a screen is not good for anybody. And then there is phone call after phone call. For somebody who has always found phone conversations difficult, who needs the non-verbal cues, who needs the reassurance of being able to read the expression on the face of the person I’m talking to, I’ve found this especially hard, even harder than the Zoom calls.
The crux is: clergy need to build up their defences. They need to build up both physical and mental stamina, and the two are linked; by building up physical strength and stamina, we also build up our mental strength and stamina.
Exercise relieves stress, it helps us to sleep better and to be able to think more clearly. It makes us feel more energised and also more relaxed.
Exercise helps to promote calm, and feelings of general well-being, because of the endorphins which are released when we work out.
Exercise is a great distraction when we have things weighing on our mind; I’ve always said that exercise helps because I can only concentrate on the pain I’m going through at the moment when I’m giving my all on a Spin bike, on a run, lifting as heavy as I dare, or doing burpee after burpee!
This week I ran 5km and then 3 km. It is the first time I’ve run since the autumn (I’m a fair-weather runner). It doesn’t mean I haven’t been working out. I get up early and do a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) session four mornings a week. I don’t always feel like it, of course I don’t, but I get up all the same and just do it, because I know how good I will feel when I’ve finished. And if my day then consists of sitting at a desk, I know that I’ve already done my body some good.
Since January 2020 I have been leading a POUNDFIT (Full body Cardio/HIIT) class for members of my congregation, and the local community, two evenings a week (currently via Zoom) and I get out and walk and get fresh air in my lungs as often as I can. And now, of course, I’m back running.
This week I turn 63, and so it is even more important to me to keep working out and to keep this body strong.
I know that working out as I do, with the mixture of cardio and weight lifting, will strengthen my joints, increase my flexibility and help to prevent injury to my hips, my knees and my back. It also keeps my weight in check and so helps to prevent a whole gamut of other health issues associated with being overweight.
Most importantly, regular exercise helps to keep me mentally fit, and strong enough to face both the challenges and the opportunities being a member of clergy presents.