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Exercise and Depression

How to Exercise When You Have Depression


Updated October 03, 2011

Multiple studies have shown that exercise is beneficial to those with depression. In fact, a 2007 placebo-controlled trial out of Duke University -- the first of its kind -- found that exercise may be just as effective in relieving depression as the antidepressant Zoloft. Unfortunately the fatigue and lack of motivation associated with depression can make it difficult to get started with an exercise program. The 10 tips below can help you overcome these difficulties so you receive the benefits of exercise.

1. Start Small

If the idea of exercising seems overwhelming, then start small. Take a walk around the block or go to your local mall and window shop. Even small amounts of activity can help increase your energy level.

2. Do Something You Enjoy

Exercise doesn't have to be a chore. Choosing an activity that you enjoy will help you stay motivated.

3. Look for Opportunities to Move

Exercise doesn't have to be a formal activity that you set aside a time and place for. Anything that gets you moving and experiencing the joy of being inside your body will lift your mood. Walking, gardening or playing with your kids or pets are all examples of activities that you can do anywhere or anytime to help you feel more energized and alive.

4. Get an Exercise Buddy

Exercising with a friend will give you the motivation to get started on the days when you just don't feel like it, and as an added bonus you can lean on each other for emotional support.

5. Learn to Beat Procrastination

The symptoms that we face, such as fatigue and hopelessness, make it so easy to put things off, hoping that we'll feel better later. Before we know it, though, time has passed and we aren't any closer to meeting our goals. The good news is that we can learn techniques to help us break through the habit of procrastinating.

6. Schedule Rewards

You've taken a big step towards making yourself healthier and happier and you deserve a special treat. Scheduling rewards for yourself validates your worth as a person and gives you incentive to keep trying.

7. Make Exercise a Part of Your Daily Life

Find creative ways to fit more activity into your day-to-day life. Simple changes like walking up the stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking further from the door of your office building will increase your activity level and give you more energy without feeling like a burden.

8. Exercise Outdoors

If possible, go outside to exercise. In 2007, a British charity called Mind released a report on a study that was done looking at the benefits of outdoor exercise. In this study, it was found that walking in a park-like setting was more beneficial for mood and self-esteem compared to walking in a shopping center. It wasn't clear why this was true, although it could be the fact that the participants were getting more exposure to sunlight. Lack of sunlight has been associated with mood disorders like seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

9. Join a Class

Joining an exercise class can be a great way to stay motivated for many people because you are setting aside a regular time for exercise and making a firm commitment to it by registering for the class. It will also help you get back into a social environment if you have been keeping yourself isolated.

10. Go Easy On Yourself

Remember, depression is a physical illness, not just a psychological one. It can make you feel tired and unmotivated. Even though exercise will help your depression in the long-run, it's not your fault that you don't feel good when you first begin. Be forgiving of yourself and don't beat yourself up if you are only able to do small amounts of exercise at first. The important thing is to make an effort to be more active. Feeling better will come later.

Share Your Tips for Getting Motivated to Exercise When You Are Depressed


Blumenthal, James A. " Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder." Psychosomatic Medicine 69.7 (2007) : 587-96.

"Ecotherapy: The Green Agenda for Mental Health." Mind. 2007. Mind. Accessed: January 15, 2008.

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