Jump-Start Your Day with Exercise (Yes, Even if You're Depressed)!

Patient Expert

It's 5:30am and it's still dark. For some reason I'm actually awake. Granted, my usual waking time is only half an hour later, but to me, voluntarily getting up early is an idea that just doesn't compute. However, I am deliberately giving up sleep for a good reason. I'm going to do some yoga to help wake myself up and, hopefully, become more flexible and strong. Since I have Multiple Sclerosis, that's very important. I'll also do some walking at lunchtime up a hill on the campus where I work.

If you're suffering from depression, you're probably thinking, "How nice for you." After all, you can't even contemplate exercising when you're depressed. Just getting through the day is an accomplishment. Trust me, I do know how you feel. I went through twenty years of untreated depression. But I also know that some of my best periods during those two decades were the times when I was exercising regularly.

Several studies have suggested that exercise can alleviate depression (see links below). A study released recently by a team at Temple University found that it can even help postmenopausal women with stress, anxiety and depression (but not hot flashes, alas). Exercise not only relieves stress, which is believed to contribute to depression, but also gives you some immediate relief due to the endorphins that exercise produces. They're like nature's happy pills.

And exercise will help your mood, no matter how severe your depression is or what type of treatment you're under for it. If your depression is mild, it can be an effective alternative remedy. If your depression is moderate or severe, exercise is a great way to augment an antidepressant or antidepressant/therapy regimen.

But, but...I can hear the excuses coming to your lips now. It's winter and too dark or cold to walk or jog, you can't afford gym fees or you don't know where to find a gym, etc. Or maybe the big one - I don't have any motivation. Sorry, but I'm going to knock all of those reasons (or excuses) down so you're going to, at the very least, think of new ones.

If you live where the weather's inhospitable in the winter, there are plenty of ways to exercise indoors.

  • To do yoga, all you need is a mat and a book or DVD. I use a DVD called A.M. and P.M. Yoga for Beginners.
  • If you're lucky enough to have a Wii, like us, I can promise you that the tennis and boxing workouts on the Wii Sports game will burn off plenty of calories, and games like Dance Dance Revolution for the XBox 360 do the same.
  • Join a gym. GymTicket.com will help you find one and print a free guest pass if applicable.
  • If it's just cold and not raining or sleeting, why not bundle up and go for a walk?

One way to bump up your motivation is to get one or more exercise buddies, either in real life or online. If you have a buddy, chances are good that when it's time to exercise, one of you will be motivated.

  • SparkPeople is an all in one fitness and diet/nutrition site that has "teams" created by like-minded people, and guess what? There's a very active "Dealing with Depression" team, so you can talk to people who do understand how hard it is to get motivated to exercise when you're depressed.
  • Traineo.com proclaims "Weight loss & fitness are about motivation" If you feel that motivation is the one thing you're missing, this might be the site to help you, especially if you have a buddy who wants to get motivated too. There are many groups you can join - I for instance, have joined the GeekFit group, for those of us who spend way too much time in front of the computer.

Here are three more ways to motivate yourself:

  • Tell yourself that this is part of your depression treatment. For some reason that often works for me.
  • Remember that you will get an immediate mood boost from the exercise.
  • Reminders can help to keep you on track.

One last thought: Keep your goals realistic. If you haven't been exercising at all, and decide that you're now going to work out every day for an hour faithfully, there's a good chance you're going to fail. There's a good chance that someone without depression would fail taking things that way. Start by making small changes in your routine. For instance, I recently started parking my car farther away at work, which adds just a few minutes of walking to my day, but it does help. Maybe you can come up with a similar "baby step" to jump-start your exercise.

Good luck!

See more helpful articles:

Start a Pedometer Plan

Get in Shape with the Wii Sports Weight Loss Program

Restart Your Exercise Habit

Exercise Fights Depression by Building New Brain Cells