Working out as religion

For Stacey Venneman, fitness is more than just working out and eating right.

The fitness director of Linwood's Cornerstone Fitness weaves together her exercise habits with a nutritious diet, typical of someone who wants to stay healthy. Those are the same things Venneman goes over with her individual clients.

But more than just food and exercise go into feeling good, she said. Studies show destructive behavior and poor social skills can lead to weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle.

"There's a whole lot more that goes into overeating and weight gain than just food," said Venneman, of Linwood. "There are so many reasons why people overeat and gain weight. The vast majority have nothing to do with hunger or food."

As a mother, wife and active member of her Methodist church, Venneman said her family and her faith play big roles in her daily life and in her happiness, just as her physical well-being does.

That's why Venneman wanted to start something different. She is joining Cornerstone Fitness exercise physiologist Ron Moody to kick off the Daniel Plan program at her church, Central United Methodist Church in Linwood. The program, which will run each Wednesday night for six weeks, is free and open to anyone.

The program focused on five topics: faith, food, fitness, friends and focus - "life areas that all work together to restore and sustain your long-term health," according to the Daniel Plan website. Each week of the local program will focus on one of those five elements.

"Without any of these five components, I wouldn't be able to do the things I do in my daily life," Venneman said. "I wouldn't get through a day."

The Daniel Plan first jumped off the ground in 2011 with founder Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California. Although eating and fitness are major pieces of the program, the spiritual and mental aspect is what Venneman said puts this plan above other exercise programs, including other group classes that feed the "friends" social aspect of fitness.

One's mental and emotional states are almost always intertwined with fitness goals, said Maria Ramundo, a psychologist with Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation. That often comes across in intention, or why people are planning on improving their bodies, she said.

"The intention comes from, what does this workout mean to you? If your intention is sincere and genuine, you really want to look and feel better, you're more likely to keep your fitness goals," she said. That would counter any goals someone else is setting for your fitness, she said, such as a wife who wants her husband to look better in his jeans.

The social aspect of an all-in-one workout plan is another benefit, as there's a built-in support system filled with like-minded and equally goal-oriented people, Ramundo said.

That's not to say that a negative mental state wouldn't work well for someone looking to get fit, Ramundo said. She cited research that shows being upset with how you look can be a motivation to keep going to the gym or eating better. The exercise itself would lead to a happier state of mind, she said.

A negative state of mind has been linked to some health problems, however, such as muscle aches and a higher likelihood of getting sick, said Chad Parlett, owner of Community Psychoanalysis in Linwood and a psychology professor with Atlantic Cape Community College. Exercise has a two-way benefit, he said. It can help prevent injuries and also lighten the mood.

"Happy, optimistic, positive people generally get sick less and live longer," Parlett said. "Exercise, prayer and meditation have links to mental as well as physical well being. I would emphasize the power of laughter."

One does not have to be a Methodist to join the local program, Venneman said.

"This is definitely nondenominational," she said. "You could be Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Episcopalian. I'd say this is more spiritual."

The American College of Sports Medicine said exercises that combine body and mind fitness, including a spiritual awareness, is thriving. More than 18 million Americans practice yoga, tai chi or pilates, exercises that the institution said reduce stress levels. One of those practices, yoga, made it to the college's top 10 fitness trends for 2015.

Laurie Greene, founder and owner of the Yoga Nine studio in Smithville, said the practice of yoga has always been more of a mental exercise than a physical one.

Greene, who lives in Smithville, said she doesn't believe all fitness programs should make an effort to include physical and mental wellness, but she recognizes that people who come to her studio might want just a good workout, or a mental cleanse.

"Every place should do what they think is important," she said. "We offer something for everyone."

Contact Sara Tracey:

609-272-7256; @ACPress_Tracey on Twitter

If you go

The Daniel Plan, sponsored by Cornerstone Fitness, runs from 6:45 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays until March 11 at Central United Methodist Church, 5 Marvin Ave., Linwood. The program is free, pre-registration not required. For more information, call the church at 609-927-4882 or Cornerstone Fitness at 609-926-9900.

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