5 Ways to Ease Depression With Exercise

If you're recovering from depression, you may feel pretty tired. A trip to the gym could seem like the last thing you want to do. But exercise is good for your head, and research backs this up.

One study found that three sessions of heart-pumping activity each week worked about as well as medication in fighting the symptoms of depression. The researchers also found that after 10 months, people who exercised were much less likely to relapse than people who took medicine. The results of another study showed that three to five weekly workouts that got the heart and lungs working harder cut mild to moderate symptoms of the mood disorder nearly in half.

You don’t have to start by signing up for a triathlon. Take simple steps to get into a new exercise routine.

  • Start slow. If you do too much too fast, you’ll probably wind up sore and discouraged. Instead, gradually work your way up. Begin by exercising for a few minutes or more on a few days of the week. Don't do more than that for a week or two. Slowly build up to 30 minutes or more, 5 days a week.
  • Break it up. You don't have to get all of your physical activity in a single stretch or with one type of exercise. Many people prefer to do shorter workouts throughout the day, and they vary the types they do. Three 15-minute walks are as good as one 45-minute walk.
  • Pick something you enjoy. A lot of people choose a sport not because they like it, but because they think it will be good for them. But if you treat exercise like a chore, you probably won't stick with it. Instead, try different activities until you find one or more that excite you. Maybe you can swim in a local pool, use a treadmill in front of the TV in your living room, go for hikes, or take an exercise class, for example.
  • Get moving with other people. Solo workouts are sometimes hard to stick to. If you have a plan to do it with someone else, you might feel more committed. So find an exercise buddy. Make a date to walk with a neighbor at a set time on specific days. Or start up a regular tennis game with a friend. Many people find that structured classes, like aerobics or yoga, also help them stick with a program.
  • Get more everyday physical activity. Work it into your daily routine whenever and wherever you can. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Park a little farther away from your workplace, so you can sneak in some extra walking. Stuff your remote control under a couch cushion and get up to change the channel. Over time, good habits like these can make a big difference.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 14, 2015

Sources

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Babyak, M. et al, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2000. 

Dunn, A., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, January 2005.

Blumenthal J, Archives of Internal Medicine, 1999. 

Bourne, E, The Anxiety & Phobia Work Book, Third Edition, New Harbinger Publications, 2000. 

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance web site.

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