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Getting Nuns Into the Exercise Habit
Thu May 1, 2003 09:37 AM ET
By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fitness guru Debbie Mandel thinks it's time for nuns to shape up.

Based on the belief "a sedentary lifestyle is deadly," Mandel has devised a light workout for the sisterhood aimed at alleviating stress and promoting strength and fitness. "We can't cut ourselves off at the neck," she said.

An enthusiastic response from nuns themselves has prompted Mandel to turn the whole exercise into a book to be called, "Changing Habits: The Sisters' Workout," which she expects to be published later this year.

"They feel like a weight has been taken off their shoulders," she told Reuters about workshops she had given for nuns aged 60 to 88 in the New York area.

"They love it, they love it," Mandel said in a recent telephone interview. "I get e-mails from the nuns. They say when they come into a room now, they evaluate the wall space so they can do wall push-ups."

Mandel, who is Jewish, said she was up front about her religious affiliation and had been warmly accepted by the sisters.

The project grew out of a book by Mandel published by Busy Bee Group in January called "Turn on Your Inner Light," which promotes a spiritual approach to fitness.

Sister Peggy, who works in a Long Island parish, organized the workout sessions for nuns in her order. She praised Mandel's lighthearted, sensitive manner and said the sisters had been very enthusiastic.

"We call Debbie sometimes our 'mother superior,'" joked Sister Peggy on Wednesday.

"Everyone nowadays feels that negativity has invaded their lives," Mandel said. "They are looking for stress reduction so they can be healthier and happier.

"That appealed to this special community and they asked me to do workshops on stress reduction and fitness."

She said the nun population was aging and overburdened with work since fewer women were entering religious communal life.

"I saw a whole community of just mind, just spirit, and I can see there are health problems evolving like in the rest of the population -- obesity, heart disease, breast cancer, osteoporosis."

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