How Fitness Lessens Depression and Fatigue (and How Not to Fail)

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

Physical activity is an acknowledged way of beating the blues. The precise reasons why this is the case are still being discovered. We know that exercise increases the flow of hormones known as endorphins around the body. Endorphins have the effect of making you feel good. That aside, there is often a social element to some sporting activities and this may help some people who feel isolated and lonely. And, the effect of exercise on mood, stress, sleep, concentration and self-esteem is always  positive.

Many previous studies have shown that an increase in physical activity nearly always corresponds to increase in self-efficacy (a belief in one's own abilities). A recent study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine certainly supports this. Lead author Professor Edward McAuley, from the University of Illinois, suggests the positive effect of fatigue reduction associated with depression is due to the individual's belief in their ability to achieve physical goals.

The start of a new year is a traditional time to establish resolutions. Typically, these involve fitness and health. Unfortunately the sad reality of resolutions is that a very high proportion of these fail in a very short space of time. Part of the problem stems from setting unrealistic goals. When achievement of the goal becomes a struggle it is easy to give up. In turn, this leads to a sense of failure and potential lack of willingness to try again.

Another reason our resolution may fail is that we frequently over-estimate our levels of self control. A recent study, published in the Journal of Psychological Science, found that those with an inflated sense of impulse control are more likely to expose themselves to their temptations and ultimately fall into the trap of giving in to those temptations. Ambitious targets like giving up smoking along with  a complete dietary overhaul and training for a marathon are likely to fail. A collapse in any one of the targets  will most  likely to result in a rapid domino effect and the person gives up compleely.

Regular exercise is so beneficial that the trick is to ease it into your lifestyle in such a way that it becomes painless but effective. Some people like the idea of structured exercise but for others this lacks appeal. You don't have to stick to one thing either. A daily walk may suit some people but others find the idea monotonous. So mix a walk with a cycle ride, some dancing, stretches, or anything that gets you moving. Even if you use the car to go shopping, park it further away so you stretch your legs. If you're stuck for exercise ideas there are plenty of routines and different forms of exercise on


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2009, December 17). Mastery of physical goals lessens disease-related depression and fatigue. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 31, 2009, from