Add Exercise to Fight Depression

Deborah Gray Health Guide
  • A few years ago, as part of an article I wrote, I suggested that exercise is very helpful for depression, purely based on my own experience. Back then I didn’t have any studies to back up my assertion. Now I do: a recent study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that 30 minutes of brisk walking can temporarily lift the mood of people with depression.

    The participants in the study were divided into two groups. During a 30 minute period, one group sat quietly and the other group walked on a treadmill. Both groups reported reductions in feelings of tension, depression, anger and fatigue. However, the group that exercised also reported feeling better psychologically and more energetic for up to an hour after the workout.

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    I definitely have seen the positive effects of exercising in the past for myself. Whenever I worked in an office with a gym, I worked out at lunch as often as possible. Even if I wasn’t having any trouble with my depression, I found that the burst of energy that resulted got me past that dreaded post-lunch stupor.

    I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, it sounds good in theory. How do I motivate myself to exercise when I can barely get out of bed?” Good point. It’s hard enough to get motivated to exercise if you’re not depressed. But give it a shot. Try all of the hints and tricks below and see which works for you.

    1. Think of the workout as another prescription for your depression. I have no idea why it works, but it does – at least, it did for me on many occasions. After all, in a way, this is a prescription. Chances are the lift in mood is due to endorphins, which are believed to be released by exercise. Talk about a natural high!

    2. Get an exercise buddy. Yes, I can practically hear the groans now. But it’s a tactic that really works. On the day that you really don’t feel like working out, your buddy hopefully will be full of motivation.

    3. Keep the payoff in mind. If you find that exercise does lighten the darkness, even for a short time, isn’t that kind of relief worth the effort?

    4. Recognize that, when you start thinking of excuses, they are, for the most part, not very impressive. Okay, so it’s raining – are you going to melt? You’re tired? Well, you will feel more energetic after you work out, so get up off the couch. Obviously you should not exercise if you’re injured or truly sick, but don’t let a case of sniffles or a slight headache give you an excuse that you think is plausible – it’s not.

    5. Find your favorite way to pass the time if you find the workout boring. If you don’t feel like listening to music, try books on tape. You do tend to walk a little slower, but you may find the workout flying by.

    Even if you think that working out is the last thing you’re going to be able to motivate yourself for, do it once or twice. You may find that the mood lift that results is addictive (in a good way!).

    How do you keep yourself motivated to exercise? And if it's been a while since you've worked out, how do you encourage yourself to get back on the wagon? I'd love to hear.

Published On: January 26, 2006