TUPELO • At 5:15 every Monday morning, rain or shine, Terry Miller of Tupelo walks into the group exercise room at the North Mississippi Medical Center Wellness Center and gears up for spin class.

The 56-year-old Itawamba County native turns down the lights, straddles an exercise bike, adjusts his headset mic, and cranks up the music. The bleary-eyed participants mount their bikes, and for the next 45 minutes, Miller guides them on a grueling, sweat-soaked simulated ride, calling out commands and words of encouragement – ”Come on, dig! You got this!” –from his spot at the front of the pack.

When class is over, Miller cools down and suits up for his “day job” as a family nurse practitioner at West Tupelo Medical Clinic. Miller said his daily regimen begins long before spin class, and ends before some people have had supper.

“I’m usually up before 3,” he said. “I do about a 30-minute Bible study and I’m usually at the Wellness Center by 4. I’ll run or workout on the stair machine or swim for a while before we start. Last Monday I swam a mile before class. Most nights I’m in bed by 8.”

Miller’s spin class mixtape often includes songs from Christian recording artists, and his words to the group, while never overtly religious, are always encouraging. Miller said he is careful to walk the line between positivity and proselytizing.

“Sometimes people say they feel like they’ve been to church,” Miller said with a smile. “My playlists are pretty hard and heavy, but I’ll throw in a song from ‘Sidewalk Prophets’ now and then. I have to be careful what I say, but sometimes I’ll just let the spirit lead me.”

Miller, who has been an instructor at the Wellness Center almost from its beginning, said he once struggled with weight-related health issues.

“It goes back to high school,” he said. “My nickname was ‘Big ‘Un.’ I was around a 46-inch waist and weighed over 250 pounds. I was very obese.”

Miller said he started trimming down in college, and when the Wellness Center opened he started attending, and then leading classes.

“This was back in the Jane Fonda aerobics era,” he said. “I started attending classes and I found them so enjoyable that I started teaching them. I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing folks doing well, wanting to improve their lives, and teaching keeps me accountable.”

Miller said his long career in health care further motivates him to stay fit and healthy, and to help others do the same.

“A big part of it is my patients,” he said. “I see heart disease and diabetes; I see so many unhealthy people. For my comments to be valid, I have to practice what I preach. If I’m a 300-pound man telling them they need to exercise and lose weight, they won’t really listen.”

While a firm believer in the adage, “You can’t out-train a bad diet,” Miller said he’s not beyond the reach of the occasional food-related temptation.

“I’m what you might call a ‘closet eater,’” he said. “My wife and I follow the Levitical food laws: no pork, no scavengers; only clean meat and lots of nuts and salads. We don’t eat beef, and I try to stay off sweets. But if I go to my mother-in-law’s house and she’s made a pound cake, I’m gonna eat a piece.”

Miller said stress often plays a role in poor dietary habits.

“Even now, if I have a particularly challenging day at work, I’ll tend to overeat,” he said. “Then I’ll have to work out extra hard so it won’t show. I don’t deprive myself; I just try to let my healthy habits outweigh the unhealthy ones.”

While some view exercise as a form of punishment, Miller said working out provides rewards that can’t be gained in any other way.

“I don’t consider it suffering,” he said. “I do it because it feels good. You do have to be disciplined and sometimes it’s uncomfortable getting out of bed at 3 in the morning when it’s dark and cold outside. But exercise brings me true joy, and at certain times I get high during my workout when the endorphins kick in.”

Miller said he sees diet and exercise not just as hedges against disease, but as expressions of his faith.

“I think if you’re going to serve the Lord the way he expects, then taking care of your body helps you go longer and do more,” he said. “It guards the area where the temple resides.”

Miller said as long as he is able, he sees no reason to slow down.

“I get asked all the time, ‘When are you going to retire?’” he said. “It’s up to what the Lord chooses, but I have no thoughts of retiring. As long as I can, I want to help people get healthy.”

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