Exercise can help lift your mood when you are feeling depressed due to the release something called endorphins in the brain. These endorphins can make you feel good because they create euphoric effects in the brain.
However, even though there are many positive effects from exercise that can help depression, it can be challenging to even start exercising when you are depressed. Often getting started can be the biggest hurdle.
Here are 6 tips that can help you exercise when you are depressed.
#1 – Do something you enjoy
Don’t overlook this straight forward tip. If you are going to do something you enjoy doing, you will be much more likely to actually do it and have more motivation to get started. This doesn’t mean exercise will always be easy, but it means that exercise doesn’t mean you have to do something you don’t enjoy.
Think outside the box for exercise, especially if exercise seems intimidating to you. Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym or going for a run. Think about how you can spend time outside, like bike riding, playing tennis or roller blading. Instead of going to a gym, you could go to dance, martial arts or barre classes.
#2 – Have small goals and rewards
Reaching an exercise goal can be satisfying and give continual motivation to keep going. Giving yourself small goals can increase drive and motivation to exercise when you’re depressed. A goal can be as simple as walking for 10 minutes, or it can be more advanced like lifting a certain amount of weight.
If you have a large goal for exercise, like finishing a marathon, break it into shorter goals. For example, maybe plan out a 5k, 10k or half marathon race to give you something to focus on.
For additional motivation, when you reach a goal, give yourself a reward. This shouldn’t be food related, but it could be a massage, new workout gear, a manicure, etc.
#3 – Engage in social exercise
Working out with people instead of yourself can really help if you have depression. It can also give you motivation to just show up for exercise, as that can be the hardest part. Some research also suggests working out with another person or in a group can help you get a better workout than if you exercised alone.
Exercising in a social setting can look different ways, but it can be as simple as working out with a friend, doing a group exercise class or working with a personal trainer. Social exercise can also help break isolation or self-focus if that is associated with depression.
#4 – Add in variety
Anything can get boring without variety, and exercising when you’re depressed is no different. It’s important to keep varying your exercise routine when depressed to increase stimulation and motivation for exercise. Already mentioned was the importance of doing something you enjoy, but adding variety is also important.
Not only is variety important for mental stimulation, but it can also help prevent overuse injuries. You don’t want to have an injury side line your progress with exercise or lose ground with consistency.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also suggests doing a combination of aerobic (cardiovascular) and weight resistance, flexibility and neuromuscular exercise throughout the week. Following the ACSM guideline can help add in variety and balance to an exercise program.
#5- Put your exercise on your schedule
Exercise can be easy to put off or convince yourself you don’t have time or energy for it, especially if you’re depressed. However, making exercise a priority is vital. Schedule exercise on your calendar or day planner and treat it as you would any other appointment. If something does come up, reschedule it that same day.
Don’t rely on your feelings or motivation level to do exercise. Chances are most days you won’t feel like it or it won’t be convenient. However, afterwards you won’t regret the time you spent exercising and it may really help your depression.
#6 – Word of caution
If you have any medical history or are at risk of cardiovascular disease, speak with a physician before starting an exercise program. Exercise can be beneficial for mental health but should not be used in place of medication. Speak with your physician if you have any specific questions for your health and exercise plan.
Exercise and depression should go hand in hand, as exercise may have many positive effects on depression. Although exercise shouldn’t be used in place of medication, it may be a helpful tool to combat depression in a healthy way.
Remember to do something you actually enjoy doing for exercise to increase consistency and motivation. This can be something out of the norm like dancing, martial arts, roller blading, etc. Don’t think it has to be a certain activity.
Give yourself small goals as a focal point and something to celebrate. These goals can change as you progress with exercise, and setting up rewards along the way can help drive you through workouts too.
Instead of exercising alone, exercise with someone or a group to help give support and a better workout. Lastly, make sure you are adding variety to your exercise program instead of doing the same thing all the time.
References used in this article