Why you should exercise, even when you are at your lowest
Suffering from depression is one of the most isolating things in the world. It can leave you paralyzed with misery, unable to explain to anyone why you feel that way and why it isn’t as simple as getting “your mind right”.
While clinical and serious depression will likely require therapy and medication, exercise can greatly reduce symptoms of depression and improve one’s ability to deal with it.
This is due, in part, to the following:
- The release of “happy hormones” such as endorphins
- The suppression of immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
- The calming effect an increase in body temperature can have
- The improvement in self-confidence that comes from taking care of yourself
- Taking your mind off problems you may have
- Exposing you to more social interaction. A friendly smile from a stranger while you are taking your daily walk can have astonishing effects!
- You learn to cope in a healthy way. Instead of distracting yourself with drink, drugs, and anything else destructive, you can take a mood-boosting, distracting run.
How do I go for an hour long run if I don’t even feel like getting out of bed?
- Start slowly. You don’t need a rigid, intense exercise programme to reap the benefits. Start by being more active: cleaning the house, washing the car, gardening, etc. Then bump it up to a 20 minute walk, and keep going until you’re exercising at least 30 minutes per day, three to five days a week.
- The key to maintaining an active lifestyle is to find something you enjoy. What good is taking a two hour run to improve your mood if you detest running? Find what works for you, keep experimenting, and you’ll find yourself living an active lifestyle before you realize it!
- That being said, sometimes you need to force yourself to exercise. Write a note for yourself when you’re on an exercise “high” to remind yourself about how crappy you felt before, and how great you feel now. When the last thing you feel like doing is exercising, and you’re feeling like its futile, read that note. Push yourself out of the door, put one foot in front of the other and GO. You will not regret it.
- Set reasonable goals. Expecting to run a marathon in 6 months is a sure fire way to destroy your self-confidence and motivation. Take it slow and enjoy the process.
- Try not to think of physical exercise as a chore. A big part of enjoying your exercise is remembering that you don’t HAVE to exercise- you GET to exercise. You are lucky enough to have an able body, and should enjoy putting it through the paces and seeing what it’s capable of!
- Identify your pitfalls. What is it that’s keeping you from exercising? Is it a lack of planning? Is it self-consciousness about sweating it out in front of a bunch of people? Find your barriers and either destroy them or work around them.
- Expect hurdles and stumbles. Nobody is perfect. You will not always have a brilliant run. You will not always want to exercise. It will not always be a miracle cure. But consistency is key, and the feeling of satisfaction that you didn’t give up will carry you through many a dark day.
One more thing I would like to say is: don’t ever hesitate to seek help. You are not alone, and any sort of mental illness needs to be addressed and treated. It is not worth it to suffer through it alone. See a psychologist or a psychiatrist, talk to a loved one, do whatever you need to do.
If you or a loved one are suffering from depression, you can call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group on 011 234 4837 or Lifeline on 0861 322 322
by Chanel Serfontein