Depression and Exercise Motivation

Depression and Exercise Motivation
We all know that exercise can help us feel good, but taking that first step can be a challenge even for people in the best state of mind. It’s even harder when the emotional weight of depression crushes motivation, saps strength, and turns your thoughts pessimistic.

When doctors recommend exercise for depression relief, patients may think: I can barely get out of bed, I hurt all over, and I cry all the time-- and you want me to work out five days a week? Now that sounds crazy.

But there are ways to work around those sneaky symptoms. It’s easier to start walking if you begin with small, simple steps that aim for motivation instead of a workout plan. Get yourself in motion toward achievable goals to set yourself up for success.

Ready to give it a try? Here are some tips to psych yourself into walking, step by step:

1. Put one foot on the floor. With depression, even getting out of bed can seem like too much. Don’t get overwhelmed by thoughts of exercise. Begin with the smallest possible first step: put one foot on the floor. That tiny movement can jump-start your momentum and get you out of bed.

2. Get into gear. Literally: put on your walking clothes and shoes. This strategy prepares you to take advantage of any glimmer of motivation when it strikes.

3. Feel terrible… and do it anyway. This sounds simplistic, but it lies at the heart of motivation difficulties. Exercise beginners can’t fake the feeling of energy and eagerness that comes naturally to advanced fitness enthusiasts. So go ahead and acknowledge that you feel awful and don’t want to walk; say it out loud if you like! When you accept that you feel awful and unmotivated, your negative thoughts become less powerful. As long as your physician gives you the okay, it can’t hurt to walk out that door despite whatever excuses your body and mind throw at you.

4. Remember: it’s only five minutes. Don’t worry about long-term commitment or some “30-minutes-a-day” recommendation. Take a nibble, not a mouthful. A short walk to the end of the street and back is perfect because you can remind yourself that it is only five minutes—and you may even be able to see your destination from your front door. If that still sounds overwhelming, your first walk objective could be walking for one minute around your living room. Whatever your comfort level, make your first goal one you can accomplish—and build on.

5. Celebrate success. One way to transform depression’s negative thought patterns is to increase positive thinking. When you accomplish any of these steps, even just getting one foot on the floor, be sure to praise yourself for that effort and achievement!

It’s all about small, manageable steps. First, just get motivated; then get moving. Achieve small goals. And as you build motivation, strength, and stamina you’ll be on your way to better physical and mental health.

With your doctor’s approval, walking offers a promising depression treatment alternative. Or, you can add walks to supplement psychotherapy or antidepressant medication treatment. Clinical research shows that regular walking provides countless mental and physical health benefits-- including relief from depression at levels comparable to antidepressants .

Getting started is the hardest part. It won’t be easy, but motivation builds on that initial momentum. Daily walks can come later. For now, it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.

Source: Blumenthal, J.A.; Babyak, M.A.; Doraiswamy, P.M.; Watkins, L.; Hoffman, B.M.; Barbour, K.A.; Herman, S.; Craighead, W.E.; Brosse, A.L.; Waugh, R.; Hinderliter, A.; & Sherwood, A. (2008). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69.

Research shows that, like walking, cognitive therapy is a highly successful depression treatment. It can also help you combat the negative thoughts that keep you stuck. If you want to explore using cognitive therapy to treat depression or increase motivation, I recommend the self-help classic Feeling Good by David Burns. Feeling Good outlines the basics of the approach and walks you through the process of changing negative thought patterns. Click here to read excerpts and buy Feeling Good at

You Should Also Read:
Beginner's Guide to Antidepressants

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Content copyright © 2023 by Erin Kelley-Soderholm, M.Ed.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Erin Kelley-Soderholm, M.Ed.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Richard James Vantrease for details.