As someone who has suffered from a chronic health condition most of her adult life, it was with great interest that I began researching health and fitness many years ago. I wanted to understand what I was going through but also wanted to see it all in the light of my faith.
The mainstream medical community had failed to provide answers and any firm diagnoses (it went from Lupus to Rheumatoid Arthritis to a whole host of other possibilities) and my quest for wholeness and holiness continued. I know that it wasn’t a coincidence, then, that I met Peggy Bowes, author of The Rosary Workout . I have found Peggy to be a wonderful role model as a woman who combines her faith with her fitness. I had the good fortune to recently interview Peggy about this very topic which I believe is of interest to men and women of all ages, faiths and backgrounds. You’ll see that Peggy is a dynamic author and speaker with valuable tips and ideas for every person interested in pursuing health and wellness.
Cheryl: Give us a bit of background about yourself and your experience in the world of health and wellness.
Peggy: First and foremost, I define myself as a devout Catholic wife and mother. My primary goal in life is to get to heaven and to help as many people as I can to do the same.
My career as a health and wellness specialist began while I was in the Air Force. I proudly served my country as an instructor pilot, but I became pregnant with my son and was no longer able to fly. I was reassigned to the Health and Wellness Center due to my experience as an aerobics instructor and personal trainer, and I truly enjoyed counseling Air Force members and their families and inspiring them to live a healthier lifestyle. I was blessed to be able to separate from the Air Force to stay home with my children. When they started school, I established a business administering metabolic and athletic performance (VO2) testing, with an emphasis on weight loss counseling and exercise program design.
About three years ago, I was inspired to combine my passion for exercise with my devotion to the Rosary by creating a unique exercise program called The Rosary Workout.Through this book and my other writings, I hope to lead more people to heaven and to help them enjoy a healthy lifestyle so as to best carry out their earthly vocations.
Cheryl: Explain your own philosophy and approach to health and wellness.
Peggy: I believe that the best way to live a healthy lifestyle is to incorporate healthy habits, one at a time, until they become second nature. Too often people make the mistake of trying to make dramatic changes and then become discouraged when they fail to meet unrealistic expectations. Instead, focus on creating one new habit every month or so. For example, if you don’t exercise, start with just 10 minutes, twice a week. Maybe you are trying to eat more fruits and vegetables. Make it a goal to add one more serving each day, not three times a day. By making small changes, one at a time, you will set yourself up for success in the long run.
Cheryl: What would you say is the most important aspect of health and wellness?
Peggy: Definitely commitment. I have counseled so many people who want to live a healthier lifestyle but expect it to happen magically, without any effort on their part. You have to first decide that you are ready to make these changes, then you must set specific goals, create a plan to meet them, and take action. If you state your goal as “I want to get in shape and lose weight,” then you have not quantified your expectations, and it will be difficult to meet them. A better goal would be “I want to lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks by exercising 3 days a week for 20 minutes and keeping a journal to track my daily food intake.” This type of goal sets you up to succeed because you have a time frame, a concrete goal, and tools to meet it.
Cheryl: What do you see as the most significant benefit of exercise?
It’s hard to choose just one benefit! Exercise is the closest thing we have to a “magic pill.” It builds and maintains healthy muscles, bones, and joints. It decreases anxiety and depression and improves psychological well-being. Regular exercise enhances work, recreation, and sport performance and improves the quality of sleep. It reduces triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) and increases HDL levels (good cholesterol).
Exercise is powerful preventative medicine. It reduces the risks of and helps prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes to name a few.
That said, I think that the most significant benefit of exercise is that it helps a person to best carry out his or her vocation, whether it be wife and mother, priest or religious, business executive or custodian. If you take the time and effort to exercise, you will be rewarded with more energy and enthusiasm to meet the demands of your daily life.
Cheryl: In your experience, what are some of the hurdles that people face when approaching their health and exercise pursuits?
Peggy: I think the biggest complaint that I hear is not having enough time to exercise. Yet most people take time to watch TV, check Facebook, surf the web, shop and engage in other pursuits that could easily be limited or avoided, at least occasionally. Exercise does not have to be a long, drawn out process. Anyone can put on a comfortable pair of shoes and walk for 10-15 minutes without having to purchase special equipment, drive to a gym, or arrange for child care. If you have children, take them with you! Certainly most people can find 10-15 minutes for exercise just 3-4 days a week. Keep a journal of how you spend your time for a week, and I bet you will be able to find several places where you can convert unproductive time into time for exercise.
The same time crunch problem prevents most people from eating a healthy diet. It seems easier to grab a pizza or go through the drive-through, but those types of foods actually sap energy and contribute to weight gain. Instead, use some down time to research recipes that are easy to put together and use ingredients you can keep on hand. I call these recipes my “911 dinners” because they are simple and usually involve just a can opener or frozen vegetables, enabling me to cook a healthy meal in the same time it would take to wait for a pizza. Also, a crock pot or slow cooker and a few good recipes can ensure that you come home to a healthy meal at the end of a busy day. I find time on the weekend to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for the ingredients. This ends up saving me time in the long run, and my family can look forward to spending our evenings eating a healthy meal and connecting at the end of a busy day.
Cheryl: What have been some of your own obstacles in your personal goals towards health and wellness?
Oh, I do get lazy now and then and decide I’d rather sit on the couch and eat ice cream than go for a run. I definitely have a sweet tooth! I fall into the same traps as everyone else when it comes to finding time to exercise and eat healthy foods. What gets me back on track is that I truly miss exercising and find that my body just doesn’t feel right when I skip my workouts. My muscles ache, my energy level drops, and I don’t sleep as well. This motivates me to make the effort to fit exercise back in my schedule.
My husband and I joke about having a “veggie low light” that comes on when we have been indulging too much in unhealthy food choices. Even my children will complain if we’re on vacation and have been eating out too much. They once asked me, “Can we just go home so you can make some oatmeal and stir fry with lots of vegetables?” A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle certainly involves a few detours, but you will find that you truly miss the benefits of your efforts and will take the time to re-establish your healthy habits.
Cheryl: What have been some of your biggest personal achievements in your own exercise program?
I admit that I’m proud of my participation in triathlons, adventure races, circus performances, etc., as well as my sense of adventure in trying new sports and activities.Yet I receive the most satisfaction from the fact that my teenage son and daughter both exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle. I am glad that my husband and I took the time and effort to educate our children and to provide positive role models for healthy living.
Cheryl: What sort of dreams do you have for the Catholic health and wellness arena?
I am really excited that more Catholics are writing about the combination of prayer and exercise. Dr. Kevin Vost is a dear friend and author of a great book on combining virtue and weight training called Fit For Eternal Life . In fact, Dr. Vost and I, along with Shane Kapler, wrote a unique devotional combining saint biographies and daily exercises to grow “fit in faith” in a book called Tending the Temple . Another informative book on this topic is Ten Commandments of Lifting Weights  by Jared Zimmer.
I would love to see retreats and seminars focused on helping Catholics care for their “Temples of the Holy Spirit” through regular exercise in a way that emphasizes that our bodies are gifts from God that require an effort on our part to maintain. Taking time to care for the body God gave you is not selfish or vain unless taken to an extreme. Unfortunately, many Catholics avoid exercise because of the way it is sexualized and promoted in the media. Additionally, some Catholics seek out New Age exercises like yoga and Tai Chi, which focus on self and emptying the mind. My dream is for Catholics to learn to use the rhythm of exercise to help fill their minds with Truth by meditating on the gospels. We can then be better equipped to carry out our vocations on earth with fit and healthy bodies.
Cheryl: If there was one piece of advice you would give, what would it be?
Don’t be so hard on yourself! I have seen many otherwise confident and self-assured adults break down in tears over their perceived failures in maintaining an exercise routine or healthy diet. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. Instead, focus on your success and keep a journal to discover what helps you to stay on track as well as what takes you off course. Don’t forget to harness the power of prayer. There are a number of athletic saints to serve as patrons and intercessors such as St. Gianna, St. Teresa of the Andes, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Pope Blessed John Paul II. Ask them to help and inspire you.
Cheryl: How can you be contacted for speaking events and presentations on Catholic health and wellness?