Fitness Articles

Finding Exercise Motivation When You're Depressed

How to Get Moving When You're Low on Energy

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I know exercise is supposed to help me fight depression, but how can I find the motivation to work out when I'm depressed?

Depression definitely can make it hard to find the motivation for exercise (among other things) because loss of interest in normal activities, along with the ability to enjoy them, is often one of the main symptoms of depression. But what does that mean in practical terms?
 
It definitely doesn’t mean that you’ll have to wait until your depression has cleared up before you’ll be able to start building up a regular exercise routine. In fact, it probably means just the opposite. You might need to stop looking for your motivation or waiting for it to appear before you start working out.  Instead, recognize that feeling unmotivated is part of the illness and that starting a regular exercise routine is an important part of the cure. It’s a lot like getting out of bed in the morning on a low day—you might not feel like it; but you know that if you don’t do it, things are only going to go downhill from there.
 
The good news is that actually starting an effective exercise routine isn’t as unpleasant or difficult as it seems. Just because you're depressed doesn't mean you'll to have to spend weeks or months forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing; you just have to start by taking the first few steps on faith. That’s because motivation is actually a mental muscle that works a lot like your other muscles—the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And just like there are good (and bad) ways to train your other muscles effectively, there are good ways to train your motivation so it gets stronger as you go along, and makes it easier for you to establish and maintain a good exercise habit. Here are a few good motivation muscle training tips to get you started.
 
Start with where you are today, and move forward from there. Exercise doesn’t have to mean 60 minutes of heart-pounding, heavy-breathing activity that leaves you sweaty, sore and exhausted. And you don’t need any special equipment or a gym membership to get started. You can start with something as simple as a walk around the block, going up and down your stairs a couple of times, or just taking some time to stretch your muscles while you’re watching TV. The important thing at first is to make a deal with yourself that you’ll do something every day rather than nothing. Once you’ve established a good streak of doing some activity every day, you can take the next step of trying to do a little more today than you did yesterday, and setting yourself some realistic goals or physical challenges that will keep things interesting.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I'm an 80 yr old grossly overweight guy struggling to be able to do everyday things -- like lose weight and exercise. Recently, arthritis has set in to my knees, hip and back. Epidurals and shots have not helped at all. I cannot walk without severe pain unless I am highly medicated. I tried to take an exercise pool class last week and was unable to walk back and forth in an exercise lane. Pain was terrific. Worse than that, I have lost my best support ( by far) - a personal trainer who looks exactly like the model used in the Depression article. I made a dumb comment which hurt her so deeply that she no longer exhibits the loving, caring, supportive characteristics that made her so dear to me. I sat at my computer and cried when I saw that picture and read the article. I have lost my BEST friend! Moving on from here is uncharted territory as she has helped me so much over several years. Depression is deepening and motivation is at a minimum. I don't really expect anyone to read all this, but maybe expressing myself--again-- we help me psychologically. Incidentally, my family does NOT understand depression nor motivation. - 9/30/2014 1:49:13 AM
  • ALANNN
    As I got older the hobbies I lived for are now unreachable. I am trying to sublimate but the support that is needed just isn't there. it's hard for an old dog to learn new habits. - 9/29/2014 11:30:25 PM
  • Having been depressed before, going through a long recovery. I am aware of what the my feeling are. Recently I have had a lot happening in my life in a very short time, I felt myself wanting to skip exercise. stay in bed longer. No interest in anything. I felt the darkness creeping in. Even though I take pills to stabilize my feeling. What was going on was more than I could deal with. The long exercises, I didn't want to do. But I made myself get dressed, go out for short walks. I have a dog, it helps. I know he likes his walks. Just being up and out seeing nature, realizing you are alive and capable of so much, gives you a sense of I can do this. Of course, I did discuss with my Doctor going on a different medication. If I continue to feel I need more help with my condition I will seek it in whatever form is called for. But I do know exercises releases chemicals in your brain that are helpful. So call exercise ,Dr. Feelgood, maybe it is all you need to help you through a rough time in your life. And once you start to get in some exercise hopefully you will want to continue. - 9/29/2014 8:42:14 AM
  • I started exercising this month. Of course, I have been here before, but there was a couple of key differences this time. I am seeing a counsellor and an MD for both ADD and depression. I am getting both medical help and mental tools to help me do better, which is starting to have benefits. I started very simple, exercising just 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week. I did have problems with my depression for part of the time and stopped exercising, but I did not let that stop me from trying again. Iím now up to 10 minutes of exercise a day and I came very close to my goal of exercising 20 times (18) in 4 weeks so I am pleased with that. Even exercising this little bit has had a noticeable impact on my mood and my diabetes.

    Here's the point. Start small and simple. Remember, failure is NOT final unless you stop trying, so keep trying. Get whatever help you need and don't settle for anything less.

    Good luck and God Bless! - 9/29/2014 2:48:06 AM
  • I actually did this this morning when I was feeling a bit low. It helped me cheer right up. :) - 5/28/2014 11:55:20 PM
  • IMAGINEJULIE
    I am trying - 2/5/2014 11:57:09 AM
  • JEANBEANY
    one of the things that helps me (although I can't tell you how many times I've scheduled then skipped or canceled), is to register for a workout class. Usually, once I'm there, I'm not going to leave, and I feel good after getting through the workout. While I do like to be in control, handing over the control to an instructor for 30 or 60 minutes can be such a relief. Now if I could just get myself to utilize your advice and try to do something every day, maybe it would become more of a natural habit. - 2/4/2014 6:04:52 PM
  • MMMCITRUSY
    Thanks for this article! Motivation is something I struggle with so much. It's an endless cycle of being depressed, being unmotivated because of it, and then being more depressed because I can't accomplish anything which makes me feel even more useless. Rinse and repeat. Lately I've been feeling so down because I'd really like to start doing pilates in the morning, but I can't even get out of bed before 8:30, which is barely enough time to get ready for work! Then I get home usually late at night and am exhausted. But I really like the small goal setting this article advocates and am definitely going to start putting it into practice. - 2/4/2014 1:47:48 PM
  • Very welcome and important message this am. For those of us who do suffer from all that was mentioned, taking small steps is key-KEY. Knowing that many enthusiasts STRESS heart pounding cardio and daily routines that leave many of us still sitting, it's a wise person who realizes for clinical depression that message is lost.

    Thanks for taking the time to encourage those of us who will find that short walk around the block more difficult than you think...but DOABLE! Depression robs you of the very things you really love as well as affecting those around you who love you. I realize how others who are avid exercise enthusiasts view US. Your looks are not lost on US. We get it...now so should YOU. We're going to make changes...simply be there to help and not hinder,

    Today I will take that short walk, stretch a bit and remember your words. Adding something every week is probably going to be what I can and will do. Small steps to regain health is key.

    Thank you!

    - 2/4/2014 12:37:24 PM
  • BRIDEOFCHRIST79
    Thank you so much for this article! It is the little pep-talk that I desperately needed today! This is an area that I am really struggling with right now. I'm trying to get back into a workout routine, and I'm finding myself slipping back into my bad habits and not working out because of the depression. It's time to take a deep breath, put on some music and just do it! - 2/4/2014 8:32:34 AM
  • Great article! This author clearly knows his stuff. His comment about telling someone with depression to "just get over it" is about as useful as telling a diabetic the same thing especially resonated with me. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard something similar, my mortgage would be paid off and I could still buy that vacation beach house. Vitamin D in spades!

    Also super encouraging for those of us (like me) who may be feeling as if they've squandered their health (along with their youth) to note that this author took stock of his situation at the age of 50, committed to a healthy lifestyle, and lost 150 lbs. Well done! And thanks for the inspiration.!!
    - 12/23/2013 11:35:48 PM
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