Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: But Who Wants to Exercise When They are Depressed? Strategies

When you are depressed, the last thing you may want to do is exercise.

Most people are aware that research has identified exercise as a key factor in reducing depression. Given the despair, lethargy, self-doubt, exhaustion, and shame experienced with depression, however, the suggestion to exercise can add insult to injury. “I’m not exercising because I’m depressed.”

Given the recent discussion of the pros and cons of medications and treatments for depression, it seems clear that people not only need information; they need help making treatment options possible.

If you want to try exercise–but it feels impossible – here are some suggestions.

Suggestions for Exercising When It Feels Impossible

Don’t think Exercise – Think Movement with Motivation

Forget comparing yourself with the neighbor who jogs – start with a simple plan of moving, do it on your time and tie it to something you love.

  • Park and Walk: If there is a store where you like to shop, start your movement slowly by parking a little farther from the door each day. Plan this small but very big step, keep a tally – you’ll be surprised.
  • Talking with A Friend: Call for someone or have someone call for you and plan to walk even for only one block. Before you start give yourself permission to stop and turn back. You are in charge.
  • Choosing Support: There is power and motivation in the company of others, especially people who have an agenda similar to yours.

Two women who could not find a neighbor to walk with came up with a plan to drive to each other’s neighborhood twice a week. The motivation – they really wanted to talk to each other – the bonus – they did it while slowly walking.

  • Book Worm: Walk around your yard, your block or in a safe place listening to an audio book for 10 minutes. Only listen to the audio book while walking, standing, cleaning etc. Never read the book sitting down.
  • Re-runs Instead of Running: One man started walking on the old treadmill in the basement to watch re-runs of shows he loved- he wasn’t thinking of walking.
  • The Brain on Music: Research tells us that music has a powerful impact on brain stimulation. If you love certain music let it be your road out. Put on your earphones and turn the music on and it will help you put on your sneakers, open the door and start moving. Dance, vacuum, walk, ride a stationary bike to music. Choose a music track or album that you only allow yourself to listen to when moving.
  • Visualize the Reward: I have an uncle who started walking to a bakery each morning. The whole way he visualized the muffin and coffee he planned to buy. He is still walking.

Don’t Exercise for You – Help Someone You Love

Often we will leap tall buildings for those we love. Helping your children, grandchildren, partner, or pet may be the motivation that makes the thought of exercising necessary and therefore possible.

Children, Exercise and Mental Health- A recent analysis of 73 studies in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that physical activity significantly reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychological distress, low-self esteem and emotional disturbance in children and adolescents ranging in age from 3 to 17 years.

A young widow with two school aged children “ dragged” herself from the couch and the children with her to walk to the park a number of times those first months after her husband’s death. Despite her reluctance and their moaning and complaints on the way – the trip was always worth the fight with herself to make it happen.

Enhance the Romance- Many couples have found that the only opportunity to be away from everyone and every social media interruption is the routine walk in the morning, after dinner etc. Often one or the other is reluctant. When you push yourself to do it for him/her and fight your own resistance – you win in many ways.

Pay Back the Pet- No one questions the benefits we get from pets. One of them is the reality that people who own pets tend to be healthier and less depressed for a number of reasons, one of which is the exercise of walking them.  When depressed, however, even that can seem like too much to do. It is so much easier to just open the door and let them out- BUT- your pet’s need to be walked may be something you are willing to push yourself to do. If so, everyone wins.

In one case a man on a new antidepressant medication felt so off and so worried that nothing would help lift the cloud, that all he wanted to do was work for a few hours and then sleep for a few hours – but there was his beagle, Lincoln, standing at the front door staring at him.  The thought of walking was bad enough – the dog park seemed impossible but he couldn’t ignore Lincoln.  Every day he got up and he and Lincoln walked to the dog park. It was part of the journey out of depression. Thank you, Lincoln.

Anyone who has suffered with depression knows the fear of never feeling better.  Even the smallest step of mastery, however, is a large antidote to fear and hopelessness.

You deserve the very best – try to tie movement and exercise to something you like or someone you love. It just might help


Be Sure to listen in to”Surviving Bipolar Disorder: Wisdom from Two Bipolar Chicks” on Psych Up Live for a inside look and strategies for surviving and thriving- exercise is one!