February is known as “Heart Month.” It’s the month when we are all supposed to be exercising that life-sustaining muscle: the heart. Can you imagine going to the gym not just to keep your heart healthy but also to keep your brain sharp and your spiritual life active? Since I am the wellness counselor and help teach some P.E. classes, you can imagine that I often encourage people to get out and get active. Everyone knows they need to get exercise to stay healthy, but recently my reason to motivate others has changed.
It was almost a year ago when one of my friends challenged me to memorize a whole book of the Bible. Now a bet or peer pressure can sometimes motivate you to do something, but not that strongly! Memorizing has always been a challenge, and I have tried and failed many times. But this time it worked! I don’t have a whole book memorized yet, but I have memorized a few more chapters than I could have ever dreamed of doing. Instead of waking up with questions about how many times I could press snooze, I started waking up with scripture going through my mind. Talk about transforming! Why did it work this time? What was the difference?
The secret to my memorizing success was Christ’s strength and exercise. I started running 45 minutes every morning while I memorized scripture. I am so excited about how it has changed the quality of my communion with Christ! Now, I don’t know if I am more motivated to run for the physical benefits or for the effect it has had on my brain! I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true! I now memorize more in a week than I ever have in a whole year.
Exercising isn’t just about controlling weight, boosting energy levels, getting quality sleep or combating disease. Exercise actually changes your brain. When you exercise, neurotransmitters are released into your brain, keeping you awake and alert. Then, after a few minutes, exercise stimulates your nerve cells to grow and connect, making the perfect environment for learning and memorizing! It’s like Miracle-Gro for the brain! It helps our brain cells stay young and sharp.
A school in the suburbs of Chicago implemented a program where students who struggled in math and reading comprehension would, through exercise, get their heart rates up for a certain amount of time right before they headed to class. There were many tests done that showed huge leaps forward in the students’ grades. They found that students in pre-algebra did 2-4 times better on standardized tests after exercising than those who were not part of this pre-class physical education program. Exercise is just as important for our muscles as it is for our brain.
A few weeks ago at a staff meeting, I shared what exercise has done for me. Since then, we have started our own program tracking how much each of us exercise. It’s exciting to see people change and become motivated to be more active. It’s great to see that our teachers are getting almost as much exercise as those who work on the farm. After all, they are the ones who are educating our students. But even more so, it’s rewarding to come into the gym early in the morning and run beside someone new who also has their memory texts in hand.
It’s February, and exercise has truly changed my heart, both physically and spiritually; it has definitely brought me closer to my Savior. Next time, don’t go to the gym for your appearance, go for your heart.