In my journey to freedom from fear, anxiety and panic attacks, I have found that physical exercise can be very beneficial. When stressed, your central nervous system becomes highly sensitized to the increased adrenaline levels. Our bodies were designed to respond to threats with this fight or flight response, but anxiety, fear and chronic panic experiences keeps the body at this heightened state of stress, making it difficult to shut down and relax.
A common physical response to fear and stress is the release of cortisol in our body. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It regulates blood pressure and the body’s use of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Many experts refer to it as the “stress hormone” because cortisol secretion increases during stressful situations. Excessive cortisol in the system also suppresses the immune system, making it difficult to fight off diseases, viruses and sicknesses.
Exercise is a very effective means for reducing adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body. Sadly, today’s modern lifestyle doesn’t produce much physical activity. Just a few generations ago, life was much more active. Our daily activities back then included working the land, farming and hunting. And, transportation was not as common as it is today, so we walked everywhere.
Today, life is very different. We drive our cars to the store to shop for food. We often buy pre-made food that only require little preparation. During the day, we usually sit at a desk for hours and then drive back home to sit in front of our TVs. Life today is very convenient and very simple—and very sedentary. It’s why so many people struggle with weight issues today.
Today, I try to be very active, exercising almost 5 to 6 times a week. I work out of my home, so it’s even easier to be lazy and snack all day, so fitness has to be a part of my daily routine. It helps that my wife is a personal trainer.
At the beginning of last year, I started doing triathlons and eventually finished the Austin Longhorn Half Ironman Triathlon in October 2010. It was a wonderful experience!
Here are some of the key benefits for exercise that I have experienced:
As I said earlier, exercise reduces the adrenaline levels and the cortisol in your system. Physical activity makes you less stressful. Difficult issues are easier to handle, and you are less likely to snap at others.
Produces Peace Endorphines
Exercise produces endorphines that create a sense of peace and pleasure. Sometimes, the release of these endorphines are referred to as a “runner’s high.” After a hard race or triathlon, these endorphines flood my body, and it’s one of the most peaceful and relaxing times for me.
Helps with Sleep
I used to have problems going to sleep at nights. My mind would race and I would often lay in bed for hours thinking and dwelling on various things. Once I started exercising, it was very easy to fall asleep and stay asleep. Last year, during my triathlon training, I slept so well often getting 8 and 9 hours of solid sleep a night.
Improves Immune System
Another great benefit of exercise is a strong immune system. Since becoming active, my wife and I rarely get sick. We average about one or two sick days a year, and it’s often just a quick, 24-hour virus our son brings home from school.
Keeps the Fat Away
Everyone knows that physical fitness is essential to maintaining a healthy weight and to lose those extra pounds. Doctors used to recommend physical activity 3 times a week, but now it’s suggested that you be physically active for at least 30 minutes everyday. Even walking for 30 minutes a day can be very beneficial.
I would encourage you this week to think about ways to get moving and stay moving. And remember that exercise is like medication–it’s good to help deal with the symptoms of anxiety, fear and panic attacks, but you should also seek wise, Biblical counseling to work through the emotional strongholds that are causing the problems.
Prayer: Father, give me the strength to start exercising on a regular basis, and help me find ways to stay active.