Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Depression and Regular Physical Exercise

Learning karate in my late teens was not one of the smartest things I have ever done, primarily because it was subtly intertwined with eastern religious principles and philosophies. When I finally realized this, I quit karate before I did my black belt grading, as that required that I participate in a Buddhist/Shinto Senjo ceremony, and as a Christian, I could not do that.

However, doing karate for two years had good points as well, the main one being that through it I achieved a very high level of physical fitness, and this had very positive effects upon every area of my life. During those two years my energy levels peaked, my mind became more flexible and alert, my immune system became stronger than ever before, and if I did get sick, I recovered very quickly. I also became more confident.

Now although I knew that karate’s regular workouts had brought about these amazing changes in my life, after I quit karate I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Instead of searching for another avenue of physical exercise without an eastern religious component, I stopped exercising altogether.

As to be expected, over the next four years my health steadily returned to what it had been previously. I caught every sickness I encountered, they hit me hard, my mind lost some flexibility, my energy reserves ran out and it was a struggle to make it through each day. Admittedly, after I graduated from Bible College I did far too much, working fulltime as well as being an assistant pastor, yet that was compounded by my lack of health due to partaking in no regular physical exercise.

In 1990, while stuck in the depths of depression, I realized my mistake and started getting back into regular exercise. Initially I went jogging and did (lots!) of sit-ups, and then in 1991, when I was well on the road to recovery from depression, I joined a gym. At first I did weights and circuit. Circuit was fun, very energetic and a great cardiovascular workout. On the other hand, since my mind had nothing to do while pumping iron, doing weights saw me struggling with fearful churning thoughts. Yet all the same, I noticed that my quality of life was slowly improving on all levels.

In 1992, I changed from doing weights and circuit to doing aerobics three times a week. Aerobics proved to be a fantastic workout for the entire body, and even helped with my mental problems. I recall going to an aerobics class while in the midst of a panic attack on several occasions, only to be pleasantly surprised when the brisk exercise to music drove the attack away.

Having learnt my lesson, twenty years later I am still doing aerobics, as well as light hand weights at home several days a week. Being physically fit helps all areas of our lives. It can boost our immune system, reduces the effects of illnesses upon us, strengthens our bodies and helps prevent injuries, makes our minds more flexible and alert, boosts our confidence, lifts our emotions, and even improves our spiritual condition.

I encourage everyone to partake in regular physical exercise. A word of caution, though - if you are out of shape, take it slowly, one-step at a time. Start by going on three or four gentle 45-minute walks a week. After a few weeks of this, change this to brisk walks. Consider joining a pilates class and improve your flexibility. In addition, depending upon your age and level of fitness, consider embracing more energetic forms of exercise such as swimming, aerobics, bike riding, or jogging. Joining a gym can be very helpful as the classes they run provide motivation for those who find it hard to motivate themselves. Gymnasiums also have exercise bikes, treadmills, steppers, rowing machines, and weights.

Another word of caution - depending upon our age and level of fitness, it is worthwhile getting a check-up with a doctor before determining a suitable form of regular physical exercise. Doing too much exercise or unsuitable exercise could cause injuries. If joining a gym, book yourself in for a physical assessment before joining any classes or doing any weights, and the instructor will design a program especially suited for you.

Bearing in mind the comments I made about karate and its eastern religious content, please avoid yoga as its roots and purposes are inseparably bound with eastern religious philosophies as well.

Another important aspect of maintaining our physical health is a good diet, eating plenty of vegetables and fruit and drinking about eight cups of water a day. (If our health deteriorates upon such a diet, see a doctor immediately. Some people are fructose or gluten intolerant, and a healthy diet can cause depression in such a case. )

Gary R. Collins, Ph.D. shares the following advice for preventing depression, “Encourage physical fitness. Since poor diet and lack of exercise can make people depression-prone, people should always be encouraged – by word and example – to take care of their bodies. A healthy body is less susceptible to mental as well as to physical illness.” Christian Counselling, Word Publishing, 1980.

‘Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.’ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

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All verses from the NIV.


  1. Amen brother! Now if I could only follow the advice I so often give others!

  2. It is scary that a lot of Christian parents may not be aware of karate having eastern religious philosophies like what you had mentioned. Spiritually, people are deceived.

    Lots of good pointers here to keep being healthy. We need to be healthy in order for us to serve the Lord in a better way. God bless.

  3. Last year our missionary at church from Shri Lanka gave an in depth teaching warning us about Karate and the open door to eastern philosophy and deception.

    Your post makes a lot of sense. I have to get back into my physical routine. I know it is vital for wholeness.

    Thanks, Peter. Your insights are appreciated, as always!

  4. Great points, Peter. Physical exercise is good for us in so many ways!

  5. Thanks for dropping by again, Shane. Got to agree with you there, giving advice and following it...

    Hi RCBUBEs, that's very true about people being in the dark about the influence of eastern religion in many martial arts. The karate I did was Australian, started and run by an Australian. Turns out that he had embraced Buddhism whole heartedly.

    Welcome back from your holidays, Saleslady. The karate I did had a lot of other influences from eastern religion as well, many of which I did not recognise as being such until I read "Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow."

    Amen to that, Joanne!

  6. Hi Mr Peter ,
    i want to share something with you and have your opinion please , after i had my first panic attack this july ,several panic attacks followed ,and then they ceased and i went into derealisation and depersonalisation and severe anxiety for 4 months . with your blog and your advices with god's help i managed to get better but i am still afraid of exercising as i always think about my heartbeats i started to control my self , so how could i do about this ?? having panic attacks yourself didn't instaure this irrational fear in your head ?? how could i get my sport rythm back in your opinion ??
    thank you .

    Hassan Halabi
    italy, milano.

    1. Dear Hassan,
      Thank you for your question.
      Firstly, I trust you have had a physical checkup with a doctor, and have been assured that your heart is healthy. If not, that is the first thing you need to do.
      Then when you know your heart is healthy, each time before you exercise, you need to face the truth, that your heart is healthy, that you are not going to have a heart attack from exercising. Recognize that because you are anxious about exercising, your heart rate will be faster, and will feel heavier and louder. This is not dangerous, just a symptom of anxiety. It cannot harm you.
      Then accept you will be like the above when you exercise, do not fear it, do not fight it.
      Then learn to live with these heart symptoms, and with the fear of exercising, while you exercise. Concentrate on the exercise and let the symptoms and fears be like background music.
      And then let the days and weeks pass. And as you do so the symptoms and fear will fade away.
      Please have a look at this article on this blog: R24. Dealing with Panic Attacks
      I hope that helps
      God bless

  7. I received my black belt in karate in 1994 after 4 years of training, I was in the best shape of my life in 1994. I became disillusioned with it after I obtained my goal and quit. I have suffered 3 major episodes of major depression in my life with the worst one in 2011 after my wife of 30 years passed away and I'm still recovering. I plan on returning this month to my former instructor after being out of karate for almost 20 years. I believe karate training with a good competent instructor is one of the best treatments for depression, you get a good aerobic workout, lose weight,obtain goals and socialize, all critical for recovery from depression. I would encourage anyone who is able to pursue some type of martial arts training, there are different arts to match every need young or old. Just be sure you stick with it, start slow and easy, but most importantly find a good school and instructor who really cares and has the experience to train you properly without discouragement. I wish now I had never quit.

    1. Hi Charles,
      I know what you mean. I wish that after I quit karate, I had straight away taken up aerobics or something similar. But you are correct about all the positive aspects of martial arts, it is unfortunately hard to find one without buddhism in it. I ended up doing aerobics for twenty years, until they bulldozed my gym. Now I am doing WTF Taekwondo, at a club that has no religious aspect at all.
      God bless