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Food and Exercise in Times of Change

Transition often interrupts the exercise and healthy eating routines of clergy and religious, and it is important to be deliberate about making good choices during a change, according to two experts at Saint Luke Institute.

Often when a priest or religious begins a new assignment, “whatever their routine was, it stops dead and never gets back off the ground,” said Dana Dowd, MSPT, the coordinator of fitness and physical therapy at the Institute.

A transfer often means that priests or religious must leave their gym, find a new grocery store, or adjust to a new schedule. “Nutrition takes a nose dive,” said Ellen Griffiths, RD, MPH. The change can lead to unhealthy eating or drinking habits. Other problems – including stress, fatigue and illness – can also appear.

“When everything is new, your body is under quite a bit of stress,” Dowd said. Sufficient sleep is necessary to effectively handle stress, but it can often be ignored. At the same time, stress can suppress the immune system, making one more likely to become sick. It can also trigger addictive cravings.

Priests and religious must make their own health a priority during a time of change, Griffiths and Dowd said. They recommended scheduling meals every five hours and exercise four days a week to ensure that they are not neglected. Both also emphasized the importance of sleep.

It will take about three months to establish a new routine, Dowd said. In the meantime, she and Griffiths encouraged priests and religious not to be too hard on themselves as they adjust to a new assignment. “Be patient,” Griffiths said.