Jump-start your day with exercise (Yes, even if you’re depressed)

Image: Still Life of Vase with Daisies and Poppies by Van Gogh
Still Life of Vase with Daisies and Poppies by Van Gogh

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 jog, using a game on the Wii.

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. 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 jogging, 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.

Or, if it’s just cold and not raining or sleeting, why not bundle up and go for a walk?

Five ways to motivate yourself

1. Think of the workout as another prescription for your depression. I have no idea why it works, but it does – at least, it did for me on many occasions.

2. Get an exercise buddy. Yes, I can practically hear the groans now. But it’s a tactic that really works. On the day that you really don’t feel like working out, your buddy hopefully will be full of motivation.

3. Keep the payoff in mind. If you find that exercise does lighten the darkness, even for a short time, isn’t that kind of relief worth the effort?

4. Recognize that, when you start thinking of excuses, they are, for the most part, not very impressive. Okay, so it’s raining – are you going to melt? You’re tired? Well, you will feel more energetic after you work out, so get up off the couch. Obviously you should not exercise if you’re injured or truly sick, but don’t let a case of sniffles or a slight headache give you an excuse that you think is plausible – it’s not.

5. Find your favorite way to pass the time if you find the workout boring. If you don’t feel like listening to music, try books on tape. You do tend to walk a little slower, but you may find the workout flying by.

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!

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