Feeling Down? Combatting Depression with Exercise

/, Stress and Anxiety/Feeling Down? Combatting Depression with Exercise

A middle -aged man fell on hard times. Business was poor, he had been working too hard and had grown terribly overweight and drank and smoked to terrific excess. He was almost bankrupt, and so depressed that he decided that the only way out was to die so that his family could collect the life insurance.

It had to look like an accident, not suicide, so he decided to take up jogging in the hope that he would have a fatal heart attack right away.

He ran out of the front door with his new running shoes on, waiting for that first chest pain. It never came – he was so unfit he could only just make it to end of the driveway. He resolved to do better next day, and he did. He got 50 yards down the road before wheezing to a halt. Still no coronary!

Each day he managed to go a little further and a little faster, and gradually began to notice a strange thing. He was feeling much more cheerful and energetic. His work was going better because he had more energy for it, and pretty soon he was running 2 or 3 miles a day and was feeling so good that he had forgotten all thoughts of suicide!

“Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness”
– Edward Stanley

It’s a sad fact that so many people are unaware of the benefits of using exercise for depression and anxiety.

  • More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, and more than 80% of adolescents do not do enough aerobic physical activity to meet the guidelines for youth.
  • Children now spend more than seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen (e.g., TV, videogames, computer).
  • 28.0% of Americans, or 80.2 million people, aged six and older are physically inactive.

Only 10 to 15% of the population is at all fit – is it coincidence that most of the population (70%) is suffering from a ‘disease’ called T.A.T.T. which stands for ‘Tired All The Time’?

You can prove the value of exercise quite quickly. Just start exercising regularly, even just for half an hour, three times a week. Using exercise for depression and anxiety is completely doable, but you have to make the choice to start somewhere.

Only 10 to 15% of the population is at all fit – is it coincidence that most of the population (70%) is suffering from a ‘disease’ called T.A.T.T. which stands for ‘Tired All The Time’?

You can prove the value of exercise quite quickly. Just start exercising regularly, even just for half an hour, three times a week. Using exercise for depression and anxiety is completely doable, but you have to make the choice to start somewhere.

Here are just some of the benefits of using exercise for depression and anxiety:

  • Depression tends to lift (in one form of therapy the psychiatrist talks to the patient while they both run!)
  • Your anxiety level will go down.
  • Confidence and self-esteem are improved.
  • A positive mental attitude is easier to maintain.
  • You’ll feel happier.
  • Concentration and memory are better.
  • Exercise leads to a feeling of detachment from daily problems, and stress evaporates just like the sweat, leaving your mind much clearer, more relaxed and more able to think.
  • Your stamina increases, you feel much less tired – because:
  • The body makes more red blood cells.
  • Your lungs and heart work more efficiently.
  • More glucose is available for instant use.

“My grandmother, she started walking 5 miles a day when she was sixty, and now she is 97 and we still don’t know where the hell she is.”
-Ellen Degenerous

In summary, people in good shape feel better about everything. So don’t just think about it – start a regular exercise program, even just half an hour three times a week. Your anxiety will lessen. You’ll feel happier and more confident. You’ll have more energy, increased concentration and memory and a better attitude.

Here’s a reminder about the three main types of exercise

Use the following exercise for depression and axiety:

Aerobic exercises

Running, cycling, swimming, or fast walking get the endorphins flowing for a natural “high”.

Strengthening exercises

Weightlifting – build stronger muscles and produce an inner feeling of power and personal control. Even slightly bigger muscles use more calories all day, (a good point if you have weight to lose!)

Anaerobic exercises

Boxing, power lifting, sprinting, jumping etc.. Any type of short and intense exercises that rely on muscles or other sources in the body other than oxygen.

Exercise Tips

Ask your doctor about the range of heart rate that you should aim for, and whether you need a physical exam or tests done first.
If you are at risk for heart disease, are over 40, or have any other medical conditions, get a check-up – and start with a supervised program.

  1. Warm up first – and cool down for 5-10 minutes. Stretch afterwards!
  2. Start slowly. Gradually make exercise a part of your life.
  3. Schedule exercise as a #1 priority in your diary.
  4. Do it with a partner, or listen to a walkman if you get bored.
  5. Avoid frustration and injury! Stop when you have had enough.
  6. Pick activities you like and have a variety of them available, in case you can’t do one kind for some reason such as injury.
  7. Do short bursts of different exercises, don’t spend a long time on one – there’s a risk of becoming so bored that you’ll quit.
  8. While exercising, focus on the strength and vitality of your body, the rhythm of your breathing, the strong beat of your heart. Enjoy letting your mind float away from the awareness of your body for a while. Meditate on ‘higher things’ that you may never previously have had time for.
  9. Trust the body to find the exercise or sport that is is right for you. Aerobic activities include fast walking, running, cycling, rowing, jumping rope, stair stepping, aerobic dance, cross country skiing, swimming.
  10. Make changes in your daily routines, take stairs not elevators.
  11. Decide on a positive attitude, try to have fun! Positive thinking works – one experiment showed that a a positive thinking group lost weight twice as fast – even on the same routine – as others did.


If you simply cannot get into ‘heavy’ exercise, take a 10 minute walk three times a week. Walking is another way of using exercise for depression and anxiety. As you feel the benefits of this, you’ll probably do more! It ís especially helpful for seniors and diabetics, and can be done in almost any weather. Do it at a speed you enjoy and don’t rush into it.

Walking at any speed can increase HDL – the good cholesterol – and reduce risk of coronary heart disease by 18 percent. It gives you a chance to meditate and solve problems (or at least put them into perspective).

Let your arms swing and breathe naturally, hold your head high with neck and shoulders relaxed and lower back flat. Stride strongly from the hip.

“A vigorous 5 mile walk will do more good for an unhappy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world”.
– Paul W. White (Heart Surgeon).

Check out ‘The Complete Book of Walking’ by Charles. T. Kuntzleman

“All great thoughts come from walking”
– Frederick Nietzsche.


If you are in a stressful job, especially if it’s sitting most of the time, learn some exercises for all parts of the body, fingers, wrists, back, and neck. These can be done at the desk and may consist of strengthening – pushing against resistance – or loosening and stretching type exercises.

Take exercise breaks instead of coffee breaks. Go for a brisk walk, even if only for a few minutes.


It’s good to play! Watch children at play – they’re not thinking about fitness or weight reduction, they’re just having fun. Adults should imitate them more often!

If you play and compete (without taking it too seriously) you’ll get similar feelings of joy, laughter and challenge. Remember the things you enjoyed when you were younger, basketball, ping pong, dancing.

Everyone needs more fun and laughter, and simply taking pleasure in movement.

Playing games properly helps you to accept loss and deal with mistakes, to think quickly and to handle unexpected demands. You can learn that your self-esteem doesn’t depend on winning the game but by taking part in it.

Competence in a sport – of any kind – gives you other ways to judge yourself other than measuring up to impossible beauty or “body shape” standards.


Chronic illnesses such as depression, heart disease and arthritis are made worse by being overweight and in poor physical condition.
The problem is that it’s hard to exercise because of physical limitations and the mental lethargy and lack of motivation that goes along with being depressed.

Exercise will improve depression as long as you figure out how to get motivated!

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