Studies show that exercise can relieve many symptoms of depression, as well as anxiety. It’s a safe and effective remedy, but it’s difficult to run laps when you can barely drag yourself out of bed.
Still, the effort is worth it. A major study by Duke University found that exercise worked as well as antidepressant medication for some patients.
If you’re experiencing depression or just feeling moody, you may need strategies to help you start an exercise program and stick with it. Try these tips for working out when you’re feeling low.
Tips for Getting Started With Exercise When You’re Depressed:
- See your doctor. If you’re being treated for depression, let your doctor know about your plans. They can coordinate your treatment, answer your individual questions, and help you to evaluate your progress.
- Start small. Your first step can be as modest as a walk around the block or 10 minutes of stretching in the morning. As your energy levels increase, it will be easier to tackle bigger projects.
- Focus on aerobics. While a balanced training program is important, research shows that aerobic activities are especially powerful in fighting depression. Do something that speeds up your heart rate, like riding a bike or jumping rope.
- Set realistic goals. Aim for targets you can reach. Sign up for beginner fitness classes. Exercise for a few minutes at a time if you need to work your way up.
- Make it convenient. Keep some gear at home that you can use anytime, such as resistance bands or a rowing machine. Do leg lifts and pushups while you’re brewing coffee or watching TV.
- Be consistent. Regular exercise delivers greater results and reduces your risk of injuries. Try shortening your sessions instead of skipping a day if you’re feeling uninspired.
- Move. Physical activity apart from formal exercise counts too. Block out time for gardening and housework.
Tips for Sticking With Your Exercise Program:
- Enjoy yourself. Find a variety of activities that you love, so you’ll look forward to your sessions. You might take dance classes one day and go hiking the next. Listen to your favorite songs and go outdoors when you can.
- Create new challenges. Update your goals when you’re ready to aim higher. Slowly increase the duration and intensity of your workouts or learn a new skill.
- Think positive. You may criticize yourself harshly when you’re depressed. Become aware of your thoughts and experiment with more constructive messages. List your personal strengths and the things you like about your body.
- Invest in yourself. Take care of your mental and physical wellbeing. Keeping fit also depends on eating a balanced diet and getting adequate amounts of restful sleep.
- Offer rewards. Recognize your efforts by treating yourself to something that gives you pleasure. You might buy a book or take a bubble bath.
- Seek support. Reach out to family and friends you trust and tell them what they can do to help you reach your fitness goals. They may offer words of encouragement or they may want to join you at the gym.
- Remember your purpose. Think about the reasons why you want a more active life. Your main concern may be relieving symptoms of depression or you may have other priorities, like wanting to stay independent as you age or provide a healthy role model for your children.
Depression can create additional barriers to exercise, but you can overcome them. Follow your doctor’s recommendations and start out gradually. Even small increases in physical activity can have a big impact on your mood and self-esteem.