Depression and exercise: tips on how (and if) to get started

It’s one thing knowing that exercise is good for us, physically and mentally, but actually doing it when we’re exhausted and fighting depression… Well, that’s a whole different ball game.

Depression and exercise;tips on how(and if)to get started twitter

The benefits of exercise, for those with mild to moderate depression, have been well documented. But when your energy tank is on empty, exercise feels impossible.  In fact, those with severe depression are likely to be struggling to get out of bed and to function. And sometimes, not exercising might be the absolute right decision for you.

Do what works for you

As we’ve touched on above, depression affects us all in different ways. What works for one, may not work for another. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’re ‘rubbish’ at this exercise malarkey or a ‘failure’. The best exercise is the type that feels like fun – things you can do by yourself or with others, indoors or outdoors, and as much or as little as you like.

It might take a little trial and error before you find something you like doing, that fits into your lifestyle and how unwell you are. Don’t compare yourself to other people – this is about what you can do, and when you can do it.

Indoors or outdoors?

There are various benefits to exercising outdoors, including fresh air and natural light. If walking is your favourite kind of exercise, you can combine it with other activities, such as wildlife watching and photography, or even Pokemon Go.

But sometimes depression prevents us from going out. Here are some things we’ve tried that you could try doing at home:

  • Stairs workout – while you could invest in an exercise bike or treadmill, the free alternative is to use your stairs, either by walking up and down the stairs or by doing step-ups on your bottom step.
  • Dancing to music – listening to music can help with our mood, and dancing to it can help us exercise. Double whammy!
  • YouTube yoga – yoga can help with fitness and relaxation, but you might not be able to attend a class – no problem, you can follow videos on YouTube instead. The same goes for pilates and tai chi.
  • Exercise DVDs – there’s plenty of choice, particularly at this time of year. Alternatively, the internet can help you out again, with plenty of exercise videos available online.
  • Games consoles – with a Wii or Xbox (or other games consoles of your choice) you can work up a sweat and release pent-up tension by boxing, playing tennis, and all kinds of other sporting activities without leaving your living room.

Alone or with someone?

There’s no right or wrong way, only what feels right for you. You might prefer to exercise alone, do something with a friend or partner, or join a class, club or team, where people can support each other. You might want to do a mixture to get the best of both worlds – many sports can be done either on your own or with someone else, such as walking, running, swimming and cycling.

If we’re exercising alone, listening to music can help us find our rhythm, lift our mood and distract us from any unhelpful thoughts. Try compiling a playlist of songs that inspire you. If you’re not sure where to start, try Blurt’s playlist.

Setting Targets: Should You?

In the beginning, targets aren’t always particularly helpful. Especially if you’re still trying to find a way to exercise that you like. Sometimes it can help to have a target – something that encourages and motivates us. If you do decide to set yourself targets (whether that’s time, quantity, speed, distance or whatever), make them small and achievable, and build towards something bigger. We’re more likely to stick with something if we can see the progress we’re making, but more likely to get discouraged if we set ourselves big, difficult targets straight away. If you are setting yourself targets, be sure to reflect on your achievements, to give yourself a pat on the back. Many people feel so frustrated that they’re not as close to their target as they’d like to be, that they don’t look back and appreciate how far they’ve come.

Targets don’t work for everyone, though – they can overwhelm us, or we might end up using them as a stick to beat ourselves with. We won’t get much out of exercise if we feel like it’s a form of punishment.

Please take care of yourself

Whatever you decide to do, there are some basic steps you can take to look after yourself. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, and do warm-ups and cool-downs  – they help prevent injuries.

And don’t over-do it – it’s better to do little and often than to exhaust yourself. Small steps compound.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-Tzu

Exercise can be a tool to increase our feelings of wellbeing but it’s not a catch-all solution and there are circumstances and situations where we need to be cautious; for example, a study carried out by Bristol University and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at Exeter University showed that exercise might not help those with severe depression. If exercise is making you feel worse or is something that you’re punishing yourself with, then stop. Take a break, take time to recoup, and revisit when you feel ready to.

Also remember; what you see on social media isn’t a fair representation of the reality of life. Images are snapshots of a micro-second in time and can easily be edited too. Try not to compare your exercising with what other people appear to be doing, we’re all different and we’re all juggling different balls. You know what feels right or wrong for you, and that’s truly what matters.

Do you have any top exercising tips? What works best for you? Let us know – your suggestions might help someone to get started.

Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it. 

  • Lottie Grace

    I’ve just started running. The first time I was out it was really hard and I ended up walking most of it but little by little everything I went out I improved a little more and now I’m able to jog most of the way round. I’m doing it for me and no one else. I nearly at the point where I enjoy it… Nearly. But going for a run definitely feels good for me and it’s nice to feel like I’ve got some fitness for once

    • Dave Cohen

      So glad for you Lottie for making that start and finding enjoyment and reasons for doing it.

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