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Exercise can help ease depression

Posted Apr 23 2009 5:23pm

I have a secret to share - I hate exercising! I strongly dislike lifting weights at the gym and using the cardio equipment at a high intensity is seriously boring. I would way rather curl up on the couch with a good book than lace up my sneakers any day. But I’m learning to overcome my extreme dislike of exercise because of the positive effect it has on my depression.

Now I’m not saying that I just do it no matter how I feel. Rather I try to find ways to make it enjoyable. For example, running on the treadmill at the gym makes me want to fall asleep from boredom, but I find running outdoors much more enjoyable. Lifting weights for the sake of lifting weights doesn ’t make much sense to me, but lifting weights to get stronger to do a sprint triathlon makes lots of sense and helps motivate me. The fact that the gym also has child minding and gives me two hours of child-free workout time (if the kids can last that long) is a strong motivator to get to the gym for a little bit of a break.

When that doesn ’t work, I give myself permission to opt out of a workout, provided that I’ ve at least given it a try before quitting.

Here’s what I mean. Say I’m feeling exhausted and really don’t want to go for a jog. I lace up my runners and hit the pavement walking. If after 5 – 10 minutes of walking I still feel tired and want to quit, I give myself permission to do so. Most of the time once I’m out there I decide to do the workout as scheduled. The fresh air (or time away from the kids) usually helps my fatigue vanish (or at least diminish) and I’m usually able to get in a great workout.
The benefits of exercise aren ’t just a figment of my imagination. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise helps minimize the symptoms of depression.

"It's not a magic bullet, but increasing physical activity is a positive and active strategy to help manage depression and anxiety," says Kristin Vickers -Douglas, Ph.D., a psychologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

Although they don’t fully understand how exercise reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, they believe that exercise prompts changes in both mind and body.

“Some evidence suggests that exercise positively affects the levels of certain mood-enhancing neurotransmitters in the brain. Exercise may also boost feel-good endorphins, release tension in muscles, help you sleep better and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” reads the report. “It also increases body temperature, which may have calming effects. All of these changes in your mind and body can improve such symptoms as sadness, anxiety, irritability, stress, fatigue, anger, self-doubt and hopelessness.”

Check out the rest of the article here.

I realize getting a depressed individual to exercise is probably one of the most difficult tasks around, but perhaps by starting small you’ll be able to reap some benefits. I started my routine with walking. There’s a small mall that’s a 10 – 15 min. walk from my house. I would walk up, buy a latte and walk home. It was all I could handle at first, but then it started getting easier. Plus, the motivation to get a latte really helped me get out of the door. Before I knew it I was walking around town for two hours or more and actually enjoying it!

When I decided to take it to the next level, I knew I needed something to drive me, just like the latte did at first. So I signed up to do a sprint triathlon. Now I am motivated to work out so that I can actually complete the event when it comes around in August. The potential for embarrassment is a strong motivator for me right now.

Take some time to think about what you enjoy and what motivates you. A power walk to a coffee shop each morning or signing up for a big group event might provide you with the motivation you need.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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