How to Exercise Like It’s 1875 … God’s Way

I’ve always loved the idea of exercise. It’s no wonder, really, since I grew up with a home video selection that included Jane Fonda, accompanied my mom to her aerobics class before I was old enough for school, had the “Get in Shape,Girl” ribbon on a stick, and had both the Sesame Street and Barbie exercise records.


When did healthy start to look like this? Barbie and Big Bird exercise circa 1982.


But the more I’ve studied exercise, the more enamored I’ve become with its history – the similarities and differences in how we were designed to stay healthy vs. the options of today.


Today, when someone is considering beginning an exercise program, there are two basic questions that often come up: 1. How much exercise do I need? 2. What exercises do I need to make sure that I do?


Here’s how the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) answers these questions:

  1. How much exercise do I need?
    Scientifically speaking, the ACSM recommends that an individual engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.
  2. What exercises do I need to make sure that I do?
    The ACSM further breaks down physical activity into categories such cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercise and has specific frequencies (how often) and durations (how long) to do each type of exercise. (You can read about that here if you’re curious.)


Herein lies the problem. These types of questions lead to finding the minimum requirements needed for the body to stay alive. But these guidelines are not what is needed for optimal health.


Let me repeat that.


The guidelines set forth by the gold standard exercise organizations are NOT standards for optimal health, but rather are the minimums necessary to continue living.


Per the ACSM, “Meeting the guidelines for physical activity does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle.”


Wait, what? Does this mean that we need to do 150 minutes of exercise to stay alive, but MORE exercise for optimal health?


Before answering that question, let’s go back and consider the amount of exercise we were Designed to have in the perfect Garden of Eden lifestyle. Adam and Eve were given charge of the garden, to dress it and keep it (Genesis 2:15). Though they could have been given a life of luxury and leisure, they were appointed useful occupation so as not to be idle in order to strengthen the body, expand the mind, and to develop their character.


After sin, working the garden did not go away. In fact it became harder, as I’m sure anyone who is a gardener can attest to.

“Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken.” Genesis 3:23


However, it still sounds as though God didn’t appoint a certain amount of time to spend in the garden working as opposed to being sedentary … or did He?


Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”  Exodus 20:8-11


Six days of labor. One day of rest.


Six days. Of labor. Work. Exercise. If you want to be literal, the Hebrew word for “labor” means not just work but “service.”


To break it down even further: Six days = 144 hours = 8640 minutes


Remember, the ACSM recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week. But the Bible says 8640 minutes of labor per week.


Now, if we also consider a nightly rest -which we know God also appointed as He created the night with the dimmer lights of the moon and stars so we could rest better- that takes the time to labor down a bit to 5760 minutes per week of labor (assuming 8-hr nights of sleep).


You don’t have to be good at math to see the discrepancy in the ACSM recommendation and the Biblical mandate. These numbers are clearly not equal. They’re not even close.


5760 minutes is not only greater than 150 minutes, it is 38.4 times greater than 150 minutes!!!


Now wait a minute. Take a breath. Don’t panic. I hear what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I can’t even squeeze in 150 minutes of exercise per week (about 30 minutes 5 days per week), and now she’s saying the Bible says we need to do 5760 minutes (16 hours per day) of exercise per week?!?!”


Or am I the only one thinking that??


But the Lord never ever commands something that He doesn’t give us the capability of doing.

“With men this is impossible but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26


Here’s where it’s helpful to go back and study a bit of history. Remember that the first exercise appointed to man was to care for the garden and animals. This type of lifestyle went on for years, decades, centuries. At what point did caring for the garden become a farmer’s job?


According to Wikipedia, mass production of agricultural equipment came about in the late 19th century, even though things had really begun to industrialize even before that.


For sake of practicality in our modern world of houses and machines, and because there are a lot of books available that give insights as to the lifestyles of the late 19th century, let’s consider that time and see how we can glean a bit of wisdom from their way of life to apply to our culture.


One major difference is that farming has been industrialized, whereas in the 1800’s, people were still largely growing their own food. Not only were they able to get their physical activity in, but had higher quality food as well. Not to mention the social aspect of sharing/trading with neighbors for their goods depending on whose garden did well on what crops that year.


Another aspect is that instead of having many “time saving” machines like dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, bread machines, blenders, and even running water, they had to physically perform the work involved in doing those tasks. They washed by hand, carried in the water, groung their own grains and seeds (or took them to the mill – which would still involve a lot of lifting and hauling sacks of grain), grew their own food. They even made their own clothing much of the time.


Should we get rid of our machines and do it all by hand?


Unfortunately, that’s not really practical these days. Now that we don’t have hired help for our household tasks and people tend to go to college and get sedentary jobs (don’t get me started), we who are left to do the tasks at home – many times in addition to working outside the home – are taxed to the limit. Not necessarily physically, but definitely mentally.


What we can do is seek to find ways to go back to our roots. Within reason. Let’s consider some ways to do things by hand without causing undue stress which would negate the positive physical effects.


Now, I don’t know if you’re like me, but if you are, you’re going to take this idea and run with it. And try to do it ALL. And then burn out.


Don’t do it.


Instead, join me in my new leaf called “moderation.” It’s a lovely leaf. Another word for it might be “grace.” As in grace to realize that I’m not perfect so don’t have to do it all. But that I still will do good work and let God carry me with His strength through all my weaknesses. Grace to help me to help others while still taking care of myself – since that’s also my responsibility.


And grace to find just one thing at a time (not ten) I can do by hand instead of letting a machine do it for me. Perhaps even building in some quality family time that would have been spent doing something less purposeful just to fill up the time we saved using machines. (Doesn’t that just seem silly?)


This week, find ONE thing (just one) that you can do/make/clean by hand that you would normally use a machine for. If you have kids, let them help you or at least watch you do it and learn together.


For example, back when our washing machine quit working, I was determined that was something I could do myself. I mean, women have been washing clothes by hands for thousands of years. Why couldn’t I?


Off Grid Laundry in the 21st century

So instead of buying a washing machine, I bought a plunger (made for washing clothes), a spin dryer (cause I soon discovered wringing out clothes was a tad too much and I could never get enough water out of the clothes to get them to dry quickly), a few 5 gallon buckets, and a portable clothesline (we had a dryer but my “all-or-nothing” personality won out). We already had a washboard, thanks to my very thoughtful aunt. And we were set!


The result? Laundry days. Laura Ingalls style. As in, a whole day needed to be dedicated just to doing laundry. Which included water play outside on nice days. Glorious!


Off grid laundry is an excellent purposeful functional movement activity. Exercise + productivity. Check!


Don’t want to do laundry by hand? That’s ok. Pick something else. I’ve written before about the benefits of making bread by hand (here). There’s so much to choose from in the kitchen alone to maximize our movement while still being efficient. From hand washing dishes to hand juicing your citrus fruits, the possibilities are limitless.


And if you need more functional movement inspiration, stay tuned (and sign up below so you don’t miss it), cause I’ve got a whole lot of vlog inspiration coming your way soon!


Are you as excited about this paradigm shift as I am? Sign up for the Made to Move His Way classes which now includes a functional movement series to get your exercise in with everyday tasks. No gym necessary.


In the meantime, pick your one thing you’re going to do by hand this week and give it a whirl. Oh! And you can drop a workout guilt-free because of it. Win-win.


What are you going to do by hand this week?


Leave me a comment and let me know!


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  • Gentle Joy Homemaker

    So true… those people worked HARD… and no washing machines, vaccuum cleaners, blenders, mixers, etc. Good points.

    • Angela

      Thanks! Good point by you as well. They worked hard. Maybe too hard at times. So that’s where we can use moderation and work within our capabilities without going too far to our health’s detriment. Thanks for your comment. Blessings!

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