Exercise and Depression – Taking Small Steps

Exercise and Depression – Taking Small Steps

Exercise has always been a prescription for overall healthy living.  Research shows that incorporating exercise into your life may decrease depression and anxiety through positive effects on the brain. Exercise increases oxygen in the brain, which is a catalyst for brain growth and releasing chemicals that make people feel good and can also reduce other symptoms of depression. It can help you feel better about yourself, can decrease isolation, improve sleep quality, and can decrease irritability. Exercise can also increase energy and motivation.

Motivation, especially to exercise, can be difficult to come by when we are depressed. So, how do we start exercising when we are depressed and have no motivation?

Here are 7 steps to incorporate exercise into your life.

Love what you do

If you don’t like doing something, then it is difficult to make it a daily part of your life. That’s why it is important to find something that you like to do! If having a structured exercise routine is something that you love, then do it! However, physical activity does not mean it has to be a scheduled, planned exercise routine. Physical activity may include cleaning, gardening, dancing in your living room, or taking your dog for a walk. So, don’t get stuck on a vigorous, structured exercise routine. Instead, take a walk around the block or get your kayak out and paddle around the lake.

Combat Depression by Starting Small

Any physical activity can seem daunting. We might think that we have no time or energy to put one more activity in our day. If we start small, it is easier to find the time and energy. Starting small can even mean making simple changes, such as swapping the stairs for the elevator, or parking in the furthest parking spot.

Exercise doesn’t have to require hours of our day spent on a treadmill. We can break up our time throughout the day. The Federal Guidelines suggest that adults get at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. We can break this up into smaller, 10-minute increments throughout the day. Try going for a brisk 10-minute walk in the morning, on your lunch break, and after work. Make it part of your daily routine.

If muscle-building exercise is more your thing, this can be done quickly and easily at home. Grab a gallon of milk and start with bicep curls, or get on the floor and do push-ups. There are free at-home workouts available on sites such as Fitness Blender and YouTube. Make it fun and try a new one each day.

Depression Will Improve with a Routine

Treat exercise as part of your daily routine. Set a time that works best for you. If you are a morning person, try scheduling your routine in the morning, when you feel the most energy. If you thrive in the evening or at night, save your exercise for later. You will find that you are more productive and will stick with a routine when the activities meet your energy level. Make exercise as important as taking your medication. If you wouldn’t miss your morning pill, then don’t miss your exercise program.

Stop with the “Shoulds” – Guilt Only Makes Depression Worse

So, we already feel anxious or depressed and are stressed out about work or personal issues. The last thing we need to do is put additional guilt on ourselves by using “shoulds.”  “Should” statements may include: “I should be working out,” or “I should be able to do more than I am doing.” These judgmental statements bring on guilt, which may decrease motivation. Instead of using “shoulds,” try swapping the “should” with “want.” This will help lessen the guilt and you can decide if it is something that is important to you.

Set a Goal That is Specific and Realistic

It is important to set goals for yourself. Make the goals specific and realistic; don’t set goals so high that they are impossible to achieve. Allow yourself to have success; feeling successful can increase motivation! Walking for 10 minutes after dinner once a week might be an attainable goal, and perhaps the 10 minutes will increase to 20 minutes and instead of one day, it will increase to more days.

Make sure your goals fit with your values. Why is exercise important to you? Maybe it is important to improve overall health so you can live a more productive life. Maybe it is important to you so you can help decrease depression symptoms, which in turn leads to a more fulfilling life. Have your reasons why written out so you can remember them.

Be Accountable to Someone You Trust

Having someone to be accountable to may help with sticking with an exercise goal. This person can be a significant other, family member, or friend. This could be someone you see each day in person, or just know online in a support group. Find someone that will support you through this journey.

Sometimes, people need to be accountable to a personal trainer or a group exercise leader. Exercise classes can help with accountability. If you are a consistent member, people will notice when you aren’t there. This will also decrease isolation.

Stick with it – Your Depression Will Improve

No matter how big or little your exercise goals are, it is important to stick with it. The immediate gratification of exercise is the release of endorphins, especially in high-intense aerobic exercise. However, low-intensity exercise can have lasting effects on your brain. Exercise increases the brain’s plasticity and allows for growth and improvement of cellular connectivity. This helps you feel better. So don’t give up! Every minute counts.

Overall, exercise routines can be hard to start, but the results can have dramatic, long-lasting effects on your body and brain. Take small steps and don’t give up. You’ve got this!

If you need the help and support of one of our therapists, visit us here.  We have clinically trained professionals who specialize in treating depression and anxiety.


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