Beat the Blue: Depression and Exercise

Amelia Phillips

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It is widely accepted that exercise benefits people suffering from depression, but rarely do depressed people feel like donning their lycra outfit and bouncing out the door for a workout. So how do we as friends, loved ones, or sufferers break that downward spiral caused by depression and the lethargy that goes with it?

Depression affects one in five people, so chances are either you, or someone close to you suffers this debilitating disease. More and more studies are revealing that what has historically been thought of as the cause, a chemical imbalance, may not be the main culprit but rather it can be caused by an individual’s interpretation of certain events in their lives, and the way they choose to deal with them (The myth of the chemical cure).

Accepting depression as a result of the way people see themselves and their world means people have taken responsibility for themselves. Breaking the ‘blame cycle’ opens up more opportunity for a person to re-ignite that fire in their belly and take matters into their own hands. It is at this point that exercise can really propel a person into recovery as it is the link between thinking and actually doing. It’s the law of inertia, action, leads to more action, and sometimes, a stroll through the park is just enough to give a person the energy to make that phone call they are dreading, or book that appointment with a therapist, or write the CV they have been hesitating about.

One of the side effects of depression is lethargy, yet one of the side effects of lethargy can be depression, which makes it very difficult to break the cycle. Doing it alone often proves too tough, so whether it’s you or someone you know, here are some tips that may help bridge the gap between thinking and action:

1. When you go to meet up with them, rather than sitting in their house or a cafe, go for a 20-30min walk together.

2. If someone isn’t ready to seek emotional help, send physical help: Although personal trainers are in no way equipped to deal with issues surrounding depression, an empathetic trainer will match the exercise routine to the mood of the person. Whether it be as simple as going for a walk or practicing yoga in the comfort of their own home, a trainer will ensure that physical activity is achieved. Find a trainer who is willing to go to their house and who is understanding of the delicate condition of the sufferer.

3. Help them make a plan or set a goal: Help them plan a physical event that will motivate them to exercise. It could be a 5km fun walk, a bush walk, a six week yoga course. Do it together to aid in motivation

4. Make it social: this could mean only two people or it could entail a group. Even if someone doesn’t feel like socialising, when it’s an active situation, there are lots of distractions to make conversation flow, and create an enjoyable atmosphere.

More tips on depression and exercise

For more information on depression and dealing with depression, visit Beyond Blue

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15 responses to “Beat the Blue: Depression and Exercise”

  1. Find professional movers says:

    exercise definitely distresses the person.

  2. Amelia Burton says:

    Hi Professional movers,

    Yes, please keep encouraging your ‘down in the dumps’ friends to get moving…they will feel much better.

  3. […] How did we do ? Should we or someone we know be pang from a ‘Black Dog’( as Winston Churchill used to call it – he was a case), try this website for support and review my alternative article Depression as well as exercise: Beating a sadness with exercise. […]

  4. […] How did you do? Should you or someone you know be suffering from the ‘Black Dog’ (as Winston Churchill used to call it – he was a sufferer), try this website for support and read my other article Depression and exercise: Beating the blues with exercise. […]

  5. Amanda says:

    It’s a shame to see this. You’re blaming the depressed person and completely ignoring bipolar depression, thyroid illness and other forms of chemical and physically induced types. These are at the serious end of the spectrum – they’re no myth.

    Being told to simply get off the couch doesn’t help at all.

  6. Hi Amanda,
    I believe you may have misread my article. First of all I have not suggested or implied that any form of depression might be a myth. On the contrary I am fully aware of the reality and severity of all types of depression including bipolar, thyroid and many more. Secondly, please explain how you interpret what I have written as ‘blaming’ a depressed person for not exercising and for being depressed? I have merely highlighted the downward spiral that a lack of exercise can have on sufferers in the hope that the importance of exercise is emphasized as much as possible.
    Read as much literature as you can find, and you will see the empirical evidence of the positive effects of exercise on ALL types of depression.
    Amanda I urge you to reread the article and it’s message to sufferers and their loved one’s to make exercise an integral part of their road to recovery.

  7. Amanda says:

    I think there needs to be an acknowledgment / warning at the beginning of your article that some types of depression ARE chemically induced.and potentially serious. Perhaps if you just said the blues or blahs that disclaimer wouldn’t be needed – but then they’re not depression.

    Untreated bipolar disorder for example carries a high risk of suicide. Untreated thyroid issues have symptoms of weight gain, fatigue and depression. (Try exercising with that going on without being reduced to tears.) There will be other things too that need to be ruled out but these are the two I have direct experience with.

    They’re all lumped in as “depression” and none should not be ruled out by self-diagnosis. Depression can be embarrassing. Sufferers need to be encouraged to seek medical advice.

  8. PeterJ says:

    Amanda, I believe Amelia is right. Depression is a psychological disorder and there is lots of evidence to prove that the health of the mind and body are connected.

  9. Fi says:

    After suffering with post-natal depression and clinical depression for 18 years of my adult life and panic disorder for 1 year I have to say going to the gym completly changed my life. I am in control of myself more than I can ever remember..when I am tense I know I can write it off through a bit of yoga and/or exercise. Its fantastic. And yes..I still have my down days but they’re not rock bottom days..I feel normal for nearly the first time in my life.

  10. Hi Fi,
    That is such great news! And I have witnessed these changes in clients over the years. One workout wont solve everything, but a bit of gentle exercise (with no goal but to move and get the body energized), done on a regular basis as a routine, has meant the difference between rock bottom days, and down days for many people such as yourself. Keep up the good work…

  11. Hi Amanda,

    Yes of course I highly recommend any depression sufferers to seek medical help and I am not discounting medical treatment at all. However, as Fi and Peter J have just highlighted, exercise has been shown to be a very powerful tool in helping to overcome depression, and I am urging all sufferers, and their support teams to try to make exercise an integral part of treatment. I urge you to do the same Amanda, and after a month of regular exercise tell me how you are feeling.
    Find something that is enjoyable, not embarrassing, and attach no expectations such as weight loss. Just do it to have fun. My suggestions would be water aerobics, curves gyms, yoga, zumba or some other dance class, or just simply walking. I’d love to hear how you get on and I wish you well.

  12. […] How did you do? Should you or someone you know be suffering from the ‘Black Dog’ (as Winston Churchill used to call it – he was a sufferer), try this website for support and read my other article Depression and exercise: Beating the blues with exercise. […]

  13. […]          Having a fit and healthy body (surprise surprise!) […]

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  15. Tom says:

    Using a Smith machine is a wise consideration for your workout as it can deliver visible
    strength gains. Make sure that you have room
    all the exercise equipment as well as some open space in which you
    can move or do bodyweight exercises, Yoga or Pilates. Implementing a multi-gym is a fantastic way to do extra workouts plus your basic gym routines.

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