When my life feels a little too stressful, you can bet that I have neglected one—or possibly both—of my two steps to sanity: prayer and exercise. Both are natural stress relievers, that can keep you moving and grooving even through tough seasons. Prayer lessens the worries in my life, as I’m reminded of the power and goodness of God, and that he cares about even the little problems. Exercise–especially cardio, it seems–helps me to physically shake off the stress, and helps me to sleep better at night.
There are two steps to keeping sanity that can make your whole life run more smoothly. The mind and body benefits of prayer and exercise can increase your quality of life on numerous fronts. Read on to see why they matter and how to fit them into your busy schedule.
1. Prayer: Why It Matters
- Physically. The relationship between prayer and physical health has been the topic of numerous double-blind studies in recent years. Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School has identified what he calls the “relaxation response,” which occurs to people during periods of prayer or meditation. The response includes slowed heart rates, lower blood pressure, and calmed breathing patterns.
- Emotionally. Psychologists have noted mental health benefits in patients who pray regularly. Since stress is a contributing factor to many mental health conditions, it stands to reason that praying, which lowers stress, would have mental health benefits.
- Spiritually. Life can be overwhelming when you feel like it’s up to you to make everything work out in the end. Prayer reconnects us to the knowledge that a loving God is watching out for us, and will give us the strength to face whatever tomorrow brings.
Prayer: Making It Work
- In speaking of spending time with God, many pastors subscribe to the mantra “a time, a place, and a plan.” Designate a time of the day you will spend time in prayer, figure out where you’ll go to find a quiet retreat, and decide in advance how you’ll approach it. For example, lots of consistent prayer advocates use a journal to record prayer concerns, or a devotional to guide their time.
- In the New Testament, Jesus frequently set the example of praying in the early morning. Try getting up a few minutes early and using the extra time to clear your heart and mind in a conversation with God before tackling your day.
2. Exercise: Why It Matters
- Physically. This one is a no-brainer. Regular exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, and offers an endless list of other health benefits. It also increases your overall energy level, making it easier for you to keep pace with your busy life day in and day out.
- Emotionally. Much like prayer, exercise is a natural, drug-free stress reliever. The process of exerting yourself physically also releases endorphins, chemicals in your brain which promote feelings of well-being. If that wasn’t enough, being fit helps you to maintain a positive self-image and be happy with your health and appearance.
- Spiritually. The Bible teaches that the body is a temple and that we should honor it by taking care of it. Exercise as a discipline helps us to do just that. What’s more, a long jog or session on the stationary bike offers yet another opportunity to pray and enjoy a one-two punch of settling your heart and mind while strengthening your body.
Exercise: Making it Work
- Treat it like an appointment. Schedule your workout just like you would a business appointment—actually put it into your planner so that you lessen the chance of other things getting in the way. And honor that appointment with yourself!
- Have an accountability partner. Some people find it helpful to schedule walks, jogs, or workouts with a friend so that you’re less likely to push it aside at the last minute.
- Keep it simple. On days when you can’t get to the gym, a brisk walk around the neighborhood can be a great substitute. It doesn’t have to be fancy—just move!