Fear is an important emotion, when it helps us get away from danger. This works well for animals, where threats are basic and primal, but we humans have imagination, language, and sophistication of thought that allows us to carry threats in our minds that don’t actually exist at the moment. Now an emotion that is supposed to protect us is instead harming us by hanging around in our minds and becoming a chronic stressor.

Fear is also often mistaken for anger. A child may lash out in anger when the parent takes the dinner plate away, for fear of not having enough to eat. An employee of a company may show anger with a coworker who is getting a better appraisal, for fear of losing a bonus or promotion to that coworker. We could also define some other negative emotions in terms of fear: envy as fear of not getting as much as another, worry as fear that something will go wrong in the future, unwillingness to take risk as fear of failure. And these negative emotions gnaw away at us, tearing at our health. That makes dealing with fear crucial to all of us.

Prone to be prone
Unfortunately, we are often ineffective in dealing with our fears. Often we don’t recognize them for what they are. We can delude ourselves to think that they aren’t really bothering us, or that we are experiencing some other emotion when fear is at the root of our anxiety. We are a stressed-out society, which means we are tired and worn down. So we seek solace in entertainment, expecting to quell our fears by distraction. We are tired, so we seek the couch and television. Obviously we need rest, and the couch is very inviting. The last thing that we want to do is to go exercise.

Chronic fear and stress don’t go away with these tactics, although they may seem to recede temporarily. We just perpetuate the cycle of stress and low activity. Few of us have physically active jobs; instead, we mostly sit at desks in front of computers and phones. Fear is meant for “fight or flight”, and both options are action oriented. Animals respond to fear rationally, reacting to the threat and then calming down, not worrying what will happen tomorrow. In contrast, we have a confrontational meeting at work, where we cannot respond with either fight or flight, so we stuff our emotions. We worry and have no answer, no outlet for our fears, so they sit and fester.

If we are out of sync with our mental state, so that mentally we are revved up but physically are sedentary, we can expect our physical selves will suffer. We are familiar with the symptoms: nervousness, irritability, indigestion, fatigue — and that’s before disease appears. How can our physical and mental states be synchronized? Either the fear backs off, or the physical state revs up. The physical state, however, cannot be maintained at a high level for long before it must rest and repair. Many of us would be athletes if our physical state matched our mental state, given how stressed we are. Exercise can help. Exercise doesn’t just compensate for fears: it can actually make us forget them.

There is a difference between the trigger for fear and the fear itself. Some people have been through great trauma in their lives, yet seem to be able to set those aside. When the opposite happens, and people are stalked by apparently irrational fears, they can’t thrive even when things are going well. If your health is suffering in any way, you are likely in the second category. This is where exercise can make a huge difference.

Tell your fears to take a hike
Have you ever had this experience? You eat a food that you like, but for some reason get very nauseous shortly after. Your getting sick had nothing to do with that food, but for days, weeks, or more you don’t want that food even though you used to love it. Then you eat it anyway, and nothing happens, at which point you forget your distaste for the food. You didn’t forget your first reaction, where you learned to fear that food, but you lost that fear — the fear became “extinct.”

When your fears have reached the irrational level, exercise can not only alleviate them temporarily — it can potentially make you forget them. Scientists refer to fear extinction as essentially forgetting that there was anything to fear. The emotion goes away. So besides the obvious direct health benefits of exercise on health — increasing cellular nutrient delivery, oxygenation, and toxin removal — it has the indirect effect of shutting down fear at the source.

Exercise doesn’t LIE around
Can simple exercise compete with psychotherapy and drugs to extinguish fear? Since the brain is a physical entity, it is physically supporting the emotions, including fear. Psychotherapy attempts to find the original trigger for the fear and neutralize it, while drugs attempt to interfere with brain functioning that supports fear. Exercise, however, deals with brain chemicals such as BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that affect how the brain operates. BDNF is a neural growth factor as well as a protective neurotransmitter that preserves existing neurons. The production of BDNF plays a major role in the hippocampus, which is the portion of the brain dealing with memory, learning, and emotion — key factors in determining if the emotion of fear is learned and remembered for a particular event or trigger. Combined with the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain dealing with thought and emotion regulation) and the amygdala (the brain region regulating autonomic and endocrine functions — essentially running the body’s infrastructure), the hippocampus ties emotions such as fear to signals affecting the whole body.

BDNF levels are detectible in blood samples, and the serum BDNF (sBDNF) has been shown to rise with exercise in studies. Published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, researchers from Weber State University, Ogden, Utah ran a study where 45 participants were randomly assigned one of six exercise programs varying in length and intensity, including a sedentary group which sat out the exercise periods. Overall, they found that aerobic exercise caused a 32% increase in sBDNF levels, while the sedentary group’s sBDNF levels decreased by 13%. Light-intensity exercise (LIE), moderate-intensity exercise (MOE), and vigorous intensity (80% heart rate reserve) for both short (20 minutes) and long durations (40 minutes) changed the elevation in sBDNF measured after the exercise session, but the length of time that the BDNF levels remained elevated was greater with longer and more intense exercise, thus the vigorous and longer exercise programs showed the greatest persistent overall increase in sBDNF.

Brave new world
Well, it’s wonderful to know that BDNF makes the brain healthier and more regenerative, but what does that have to do with fear? You might think that memories which triggered the fear would be better remembered and have greater effect as the memory centers and emotion centers get healthier. But research is showing that it is the unbalanced, less healthy brain that is most succumbing to fear. The healthy brain seems to be more able to shed old, baseless, unreinforced fears — that’s what research is saying. Exercise doesn’t just relieve the impact of fear memories, it helps disconnect them from the fear response. In a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers from the University of Tsukuba in Japan conducted an animal study with three groups: sedentary, light-intensity exercise (LIE), and moderate-intensity exercise (MOE) groups over a four-week period. Then the animals were tested for fear extinction, where they would be placed in locations or situations in which they previously showed fear reactions to see if that reaction persisted. Accelerated fear extinction was observed in both the LIE and MOE groups compared with the control group. When fearful, the animals would freeze for a period of time, and this response diminished in the exercising groups to where it didn’t even happen (fear extinction).

That wasn’t all. The researchers also were able to negate the effects of the exercise-related increases of BDNF by administering a substance that blocked tropomyosin receptor kinase B (TrkB) which is the receptor for BDNF that normally allows it to bind with cells — brain cells in this case. Here BDNF is operating as a neurotransmitter, and blocking TrkB prevented BDNF from functioning as such. Observation of the blocking effect within the hippocampus was conducted, where the exercising groups showed increased BDNF just as before, but the fear reduction and extinction did not occur. This established the specific role that BDNF was playing in the fear extinction, showing that it was the primary reason for the exercise having this effect.

Remember to forget
Combining the studies, we see that even light exercise improves hippocampus function, but higher intensity has longer-lasting effects. Any exercise increases BDNF and the TrkB receptor protein levels, which improves memory and brain function, and as the research shows, brings fear under control. How can this be? If you have a fear memory hanging around, wouldn’t improving your brain function just make that memory more vibrant, more impactful? The answer may lie in brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to adjust and learn readily. Of all the organs, the brain is the most rapidly adaptable. Even in old age, people can learn new skills. But what happens when the brain is less plastic because too many of its cells are dying, not being replaced, and the brain chemicals are sub par?

Fear memories are not good when they become permanent. They had their place at one time, and may have kept us out of bad situations if the fear was reasonable, but over time we should unlearn the fear if it no longer makes sense. When we get stuck in a rut, unable to adjust to the present, the plasticity has been traded for rigidity. We do need maturation and stability, but not rigidity. A well-functioning brain can unlearn fears better, because unlearning is really learning in a different direction.

An example would be claustrophobia, the fear of confined spaces. Someone with this fear may have once had a bad experience in a closed space and learned to fear all tight spaces, but how often is that fear going to be valuable today? Likely it is the opposite, because there are many times we need to go in a small room, an elevator, or even just a small car. If we are realistically responding to our current environment, we unlearn improper fears. This requires brain plasticity. BDNF is not only a neurotransmitter, but also belongs to a family of polypeptide growth factors called neurotrophins. They influence the proliferation, differentiation, and survival of neurons, and give the brain its ability to develop new neural connections, which is the essence of plasticity.

A more severe example would be that of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome). Here, someone who has been through a trauma has such troubling memories that they have recurring nightmares, often depression, hyperarousal (where small stresses cause an exaggerated fear response), and poor cognition or concentration. The memories are emblazoned in the PTSD sufferer’s brain. Fear extinction seems hardly a possibility: rather than being able to forget the trauma, the trauma is continually relived. In PTSD, the memory processes are dysregulated; they are thrown out of balance. The Japan research noted that studies have shown that exercise is effective in reducing PTSD symptoms. Exercise can help anyone with fear issues, whether they be mild or severe.

The process, and the connection to fear learning/unlearning, is explained in a review article published in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety: “The effects of neurotrophins depend upon their levels of availability, their binding affinity to transmembrane receptors, and the downstream signaling cascades that are engaged following receptor activation.” They then link this to fear extinction: “…extinction training increases BDNF expression in the ventral hippocampus, which is associated with increased IL (infralimbic cortex) activity, facilitating extinction learning.” Abundant BDNF promotes fear unlearning, and exercise boosts BDNF.

Lose that kinesiophobia
This is just another reason to exercise, and in this case, more is better. But something is better than nothing, and even those in a wheelchair can get some exercise. It will help your brain, particularly your hippocampus which is so vital to memory. If you are fearful in any way, exercise will help. Health promotes health, and exercise helps your whole body, including dropping your fears. One thing to fear — really fear — is being sedentary.


Dr. Nemec’s Review

To summarize these studies, BDNF is a growth factor for the neurons in the brain. It’s associated with increased memory, improved cognitive function, and as the studies have shown, mental- emotional balance, and fear extinction.

What did fear originally mean?
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The word “fear” actually means, in reverence and awe, to trust someone with all of your being. Well, that’s not the way we use it today, you would say. When the fall entered the world, part of that was a fall from the true meaning of the word. So now fear became to reverence and trust oneself with one’s own life apart from God. This is where the negative connotation of the word fear began.

What fear now means to the world?
Fear is the father of all negative emotions. It was the first emotion to enter into human race from the beginning after the fall. It is by far the most damaging and disease-producing emotion there is.

Two types of fear
There are two categories of fear that we need to address. The first one is the obvious conscious fear. This is one you’re aware of because it’s in the conscious thinking mind — this one accounts for approximately 5% of the damaging fear that affects us. The other category is subconscious fear — this type of fear started in early childhood. It was written as a program onto brain tissue. It plays continually, and the most difficult aspect of it is you’re not aware of it because it’s subconscious: it’s below conscious awareness, but it still affects the organs, glands, tissues, and brain cells.

You ask, how do I know they’re there?
You actually don’t, but your life is completely ruled by those subconscious fears. Advance scans like 3-D brain imaging have been developed to find the subconscious emotions, and advanced therapies to release them. We’ve been using these at Revolution New Medicine for the last 30 years. If you only address the conscious level, you have done a good thing, but once you address the subconscious level, you have done everything — you’ve completely transformed your mind and body.

Fear the root of disease
Almost all disease has a mental-emotional component that triggered it. We have seen this for 40+ years in our research — so if fear is the father of all negative emotions, then fear is also the father of most of all disease. Release the fear and the disease will heal.

In the last 40 years of treating patients at Revolution New Medicine, one thing is clear: most patients think all disease is from a physical origin, and this simply is not true. We’ve had many patients come in with advanced cancers, and they say, how did I get this? I eat well, I exercise, I take supplements, I have no stress in my life. My husband and my kids are great. We have no financial issues. I’m at the best place in my life, so how did I get cancer? The answer is subconscious stress programs based in fear. The patient would usually respond, “I don’t have any fears that I know of.” That’s the issue: “that you consciously know of” — these are subconscious programs written on the hard drive of your brain. You don’t know them consciously, you don’t remember them consciously; but nevertheless, they are there secreting stress molecules continually.

When the body is stressed, tumors grow
When your body is secreting stress molecules continually because of subconscious stored stress programs, the most common reaction is that it shuts off cellular immunity (the part of your immunity that fights cancer), and turns on growth pathways. Remember: under stress the body perceives the fight or flight stress as if you would need to repair quickly if you were injured, and because of this, accelerated growth pathways are stimulated to grow new tissue, but unfortunately, under these stresses when the body shuts off the cellular immunity, this opens the door for not only new tissue to grow, but also malignant tumors to grow.

What can you do right now?
As these studies show, start exercising: any exercise will do — the more high intensity / short duration, the better it becomes, but even if you go out and ride your bike or take a brisk walk any exercise will do. Exercise has so many positive benefits. It’s one of those absolutely necessary activities that has to be in your life daily, not only for health, longevity, and brain function, but also for fear extinction. You must make the exercise a routine where you do it every day — just like eating is a routine, exercise should be just as important a routine.

The worst disease
The worst disease is Alzheimer’s and dementia. One reason is, you don’t even know who you are, you don’t even know who your loved ones are. This is such a sad disease, and it can be prevented. A key factor is increasing BDNF, and that’s increased with exercise, so you owe it to your family to exercise — when you’re 60, when you’re 70, when you’re 80 and beyond. You wouldn’t want your family to have the burden to take care of you when you don’t know who you are or they are. So, start moving today. Make it a routine. Your memory will improve, your mental and emotional situations will improve. Your fear can be completely reversed. That is a lot of benefit from one simple thing: doing daily-exercise.

Here are the ways we can help you in your health journey:

  1. Outpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-has the most benefit of teaching, treatment, live classes and personalized coaching. This program has the most contact with Dr. Nemec with 3- 6 month programs that can be turned into a regular checking and support program for life. This is our core program that has helped so many restore their health and maintain that restoration for years.
  2. Inpatient Comprehensive Teaching and Treatment Program-is our four-week intensive inpatient program for those that are not in driving distance, usually over 4 hour drive. This is the program that is an intensive jumpstart with treatment, teaching, live classes and coaching designed for all our international patients along with those in the US that do not live in Illinois. This program is very effective especially when combined with our new membership program support.
  3. Stay at Home Program-is offered to continental US patients who cannot come to Revolution New Medicine but still want a more personal, customized plan to restore their health. This program also includes our Learn Membership Program.
  4. Membership Program is our newest program offered for those that want to work on their health at a high level and want access to the teaching at Revolution New Medicine along with the Forums: both Dr. Nemec’s posts and other members posting. And also, to have the chance to get personalized questions answered on the conference calls which are all archived in case you miss the call. The Membership Program has 3 levels to choose from: Learn, Overcome and Master. The difference is at the Overcome and Master levels you received one on one calls with Dr. Nemec personalizing your program for your areas of focus.