If you suffer from clinical depression, you’ve probably been bombarded with well-intentioned advice that you should exercise, but when it’s a struggle just to get up in the morning, how on earth do you find exercise motivation? It certainly doesn’t help when those well-meaning friends suggest that you “just get up and do it”; if it were that easy, you would have done it already, right?
A good first step toward a healthier, happier life is to get past the vague notions of “exercise is good for me and my emotional state” and pinpoint the specific benefits of exercise. You might not be willing to trek down a difficult path to reach a mysterious “something good”; knowing that the “something good” is a pot of gold would be a much stronger motivator. Exercising causes your body to release endorphins, which can lessen pain and anxiety and elevate mood. Endorphins can be thought of as the body’s safe, natural version of morphine. Beyond affecting brain chemistry, exercise might actually fundamentally change your brain in positive ways. In the late 1990s, Dr. Fred H. Gage and other scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies proved that humans can produce new brain cells throughout life and that exercise can promote this growth, which is called “neurogenesis.” Scientists have hypothesized that this neurogenesis protects people from depression, and a 2011 publication reports research that supports this neurogenesis-depression connection.
Not all of exercise’s benefits involve complicated neuroscience. Feeling bad physically makes it hard to feel good mentally; conversely, exercise strengthens and energizes your body, making it easier to tackle the day’s tasks and maintain a positive attitude. Many depressed people struggle with feelings of isolation and find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of negative thoughts. Getting out and exercising can expose you to more social interactions, and focusing on a constructive physical effort can provide a distraction from unhealthy thoughts. Regular exercise can combat sleep problems, which frequently plague depression patients.
One of the most crippling effects of depression can be the damage it wreaks on a person’s self-esteem, but exercising can grow your self confidence. Setting realistic fitness goals and meeting them can provide a sense of accomplishment, and becoming more fit can help you be more happy with the person you see in the mirror. Perhaps you’ll even find that this person smiling back at you from the mirror is someone with a new-found love, because when you exercise, you should aim to do something you love. Forget “no pain, no gain” and barking drill sergeants, and find something fun. Just ask the Harvard School of Public Health. “Anything that gets you moving, really” counts as exercise
Hopefully, you’ve now discovered a firmer resolve to get active. If you have any physical medical conditions, be sure to check with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Find more exercise motivation at the Nexercise blog and get moving to get happier!