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Body and soul: Zion's Faithfully Fit program focuses on the spiritual as well as the physical

Joan Buchhop lifts her arms into the air during a Faithfully Fit workout. Marie Johnson / Tribune1 / 5
Gert Stromme stretches her left leg during a Faithfully Fit session. Marie Johnson / Tribune2 / 5
Nora Anderson, Joan Buchhop and Betty Husby raise their arms high into the air during a Faithfully Fit session at Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes last week. Marie Johnson / Tribune3 / 5
Faithfully Fit sets itself apart from other fitness programs with its religious factor. At the end of most 45-minute workout sessions, participants say a prayer and read a devotional. Pictured here are Nora Anderson, left, and Joan Buchhop. Marie Johnson / Tribune4 / 5
Nora Anderson, Joan Buchhop, Betty Husby and Gert Stromme, left to right, do some chair exercises during last Wednesday's Faithfully Fit session at Zion Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes. The women have been getting together four times a week, for the past 18 years, for Faithfully Fit. Three other longtime members are not pictured: Betty Wilson, Louise Robinson and Corrine Frank. Marie Johnson / Tribune5 / 5

Here's a group that gives new meaning to the phrase, "working out religiously."

For almost 20 years now, several women from Zion Lutheran Church have gotten together four times a week, every week, to move their bodies and lift their spirits through the Faithfully Fit program.

They meet in the basement of the church for 45-minute workouts, and then say a prayer and read a devotional. While a few women have come and gone through the years, and exercise routines have varied, some things have stayed the same: it's always been as much about fun and friendship as it is about fitness.

"We know we need exercise and we like the kind of exercising we do," said longtime Faithfully Fit participant Gert Stromme. "And we like the camaraderie and the devotions."

During last week's Wednesday morning session, Stromme and three other Faithfully Fit "regulars"—Nora Anderson, Joan Buchhop and Betty Husby—caught up on news of their friends and families while doing stretches and chair exercises.

With a VHS tape of senior exercise guru Bob Klein playing on a big TV in the background, the women chatted about the weather while turning their heads from side to side, and then their torsos. They learned about the great deal one of them just got on a new mattress, while craning their arms up over their heads. And they discussed some recent health issues, including a shoulder surgery and bad knee, while reaching their fingers toward the floor.

Klein, sporting a bushy mustache and sleeveless shirt, led the routine from the screen, seated on a chair in a cobblestone-pathed garden, relaxing music playing. The video focused on zookinesis, a mild form of exercise designed to restore muscle tone, joint strength and flexibility. The workout had a casual feel about it, and the Faithfully Fit group laughed and talked while following along.

When technical issues forced them to end the video early, the group wasn't fazed. They brought out some old exercise worksheets and adjusted their routine on the spot. After awhile they got up out of their chairs, walked around the room and worked their legs, arms and feet. As they went, they encouraged each other to keep moving, but never pushed anyone past their limits.

By the time the workout ended, another church group was starting to fill the Zion basement, laying out a dessert plate and donuts in preparation for a brunch-time meeting. The Faithfully Fit participants all eyed the treats, joking about how much they appreciate junk food—especially chocolate.

"So you see why we have to exercise," Buchhop said with a wink.

The topic of the day's devotional was fitting, then: temptation. After a short prayer, Anderson read about fighting against temptation and, when that fails, seeking Christ's forgiveness: "Give me strength to fight the good fight, Oh Lord."

The Faithfully Fit program began around the year 2000. Anderson said she and another longtime group member, Louise Robinson, got the program going after taking a heart class. At first, the sessions focused on the heart, and participants could check their weight and blood pressure.

Based on a similar program called Faithfully Fit Forever, started by a church in Moorhead, the Detroit Lakes version soon developed a personality of its own, and began to include educational discussions on health topics ranging from diet to diabetes. Workouts have evolved over the years to fit the needs of the group—the zookinesis of today was Tai Chi yesterday, or Dancing to the Oldies before that. There have also been floor exercises, and breathing exercises.

"It makes you feel good," said Husby of the workouts. "You know you're doing something that's good for you."

She added that, "What's different about this program is the religious connection. There are a lot of exercise programs, but not all of them have that religious aspect."

The group meets Mondays and Thursdays at 5 p.m., and Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:45 a.m., in the Zion Lutheran Church basement. The sessions are free and open to the public. Weights, stretch bands, workout videos and other materials are available for people to use.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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