Conquering Depression: Exercise Helps

Exercising Makes Me Happy by Victoria Breton on etsy

When things were really bad, in the bottom of my major depressive episode, I could barely get out of bed. My ultimately life-saving partner would coax me up and walk me downstairs to the couch for the day’s adventure. As I got better, he would put me in the car and take me on little driving trips, like to a local lake or the riverfront, just to sit and have a look at something else for a change. He took me on a summer trip that I only really remember through reconstructed stories and pictures (the whole trip was a bit overwhelming, and either the illness or the meds I was trialling seemed to have taken parts of my memory).

Before being sick, though, I had always been active. I raced BMX in junior high, played basketball in high school, swam competitively in college, and learned to cross-country ski as a little kid on the snowy prairies. As an adult, I had swum Masters meets and competed in triathlons. I know that exercise makes me feel better, and there was nothing I could do to force myself to the levels of exercise that I had been accustomed to. In so many ways, I desperately wanted my situation to change, to get better; meds didn’t work so I had to grasp on to something to help.

So I started small, and asked for help.

I had been seeing my acupuncturist twice a week. He is also a physical therapist, and from the start, he encouraged me to do some exercise at my level. In the beginning, he would check with me to see if I was able to walk to the end of the block — three houses away. As I built up my strength, I moved on to walking partway around the block and back, and then around the block, and then further, until two years later, I was swimming (my regular) 2500m in the pool and skiing 25km per week. The point is that with dedication, I could increase my amounts of exercise, and get to a level that I had been at before.

And the exercise led me to feel.

It might have been the wind on my cheeks, or my lungs puffed up and sore, or tightness in my legs or arms, but it was feeling something. Part of depression is the sheer lack of feeling. Doing exercise and experiencing changes in my body felt like being “better,” and that was the ultimate goal.

It’s a myth that if you are able to exercise, you can’t also have depression. Exercise, at your level, is a tool to help you to feel better on your path to becoming healthy.

It’s also a myth that if you’re athletic, you won’t have depression. Canadian Olympic speed skater and cyclist (yes, she competes in both winter and summer Olympics) Clara Hughes has experienced depression, and recovered. Partnered with communications company Bell, her third Let’s Talk Day is coming up on February 12. Clara Hughes shows how important it is to talk about it. And I know that keeping moving makes things just a little bit better.

So, tell me, how does physical movement fit into your day? Do you feel better when you’re doing it? Or does the feel-good come afterward? If you aren’t currently in a rhythm of exercising daily, what’s a small step that you’d like to take to get your body moving?

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I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this. You are reading the eighth in a series of thirteen articles on surviving depression. Find the first seven articles here.

18 thoughts on “Conquering Depression: Exercise Helps

  1. Lori-Ann. Your posts are important and appreciated. A great reminder. I have been off and on with exercising – seeing your post reminds me to be more consistent and to make plans. It helps not only my body but my mind as well. All over health. I do take at least take a walk every morning with the dog… he has helped tremendously get me out of the house and be active.

    1. Thank you Megan–it’s good to know that others are thinking along the same lines. I get off and on with my exercising too, especially when I’ve been feeling well for a while. We all need reminders to take care–at this point in my life, exercise is so much more about my mind, emotions, and spirit than it is about my body. And I think that dogs are the best. thing. ever. xo

  2. Greetings from Virginia, I just wanted to Thank You for sharing what has been working for you in your battle with depression. I am moved to try anything at this point, anything. I feel like I’m slipping far away. But maybe I could try & muster up the will to walk to the end of my block. If I kept going I would be at the beach which is my refuge, I do Love the ocean, but I can’t even seem to make myself walk the two blocks it takes to get there. I feel like a lazy, shell of existance. So again, Thank You for your lovely blog & for sharing & giving me a glimpse of hope.

    1. Hey Dawn, thanks for speaking up. Would it work, when you’re ready, to try walking past two or three houses, then turning around? I have found that having a “story” in my back pocket, too, helps the worries that someone will see and think I’m crazy for walking so seemingly purposelessly: something like, “I just remembered that I . . .” (left the kettle on, forgot my keys. . . whatever). Or if you can drive or get a ride, get yourself to the beach. It doesn’t matter how close it is. Right now, the good thing might be to just be there, at your refuge.
      I’m so happy that you see hope. Things do get better. xo

  3. Thanks Lori-Ann for this. My meds are working for the most part but I stil get those ‘lazy’ days. Its 4.30pm here in Ireland and I’ve only just got as far as reading email. I have a dog who needs an hour’s exercise a day. She’s great and tolerates as much as I give her. Usually at least 40 mins, sometimes a couple of hours on the beach (we stop a lot then) or like today, we haven’t been out. I haven’t done much work this week. You’ve made me realise I’m not up to it. So I’ll take the dog round the block shortly and the world will still be there when I’m ready for it. For those who are at the bottom of the pit – just remember that breathing is all that matters sometimes. Big hug to all who need it., :)

    1. Hi Chel–yes, it’s important to go easy on ourselves when that’s what we need. And dogs are so good at leveling everything for us. Thanks for reminding us that the world will still be waiting when we’re ready–it’s so true. xo

  4. Getting regular exercise, and hard exercise too, helps SOOO much in terms of depression or anxiety. I used to think it was the former but for me I realised that it was the latter. The ruminating and hand wringing and overthinking is SO much less when I have regular exercise.

  5. Hi Lori-Ann,
    Just found your blog. A great post on exercising. I always wanted to exercise. Always kept trying but then I’d feel even more sluggish afterwards and extremely tired out. This went on for years.
    I thought that I was depressed so that was why I just couldn’t manage it. Then I thought that if I just made more of an effort then the exercise would help alleviate my depression like I’d read in a book.

    Finally a specialist made me get some tests done. It turns out I was not physically in the condition to exercise. First I need a whole lot of multi-vits and other stuff to cure an infection. (And I got out of depression before that. But still couldn’t do much exercise ) After more than a year I now go for walks and still feel O.K.

    1. You bring up such an important point, Sharon! When we’re not feeling well, it’s critical to talk to a medical pro to see what really might be going on. Sometimes, it might mean pressing for lab tests or specialist referrals.
      My writing is about what I did after all of that, a diagnosis, and drug trials–all monitored by medical people.
      I’m so happy to hear that you were able to move from “I thought that if I just made more of an effort. . .” to getting care, and now, going for walks and feeling okay.

      1. Now feeling O.K. about my body too. You see Lori-Ann, I have friends who mostly either ARE models or look like models. So a part of my progress has been to be O.K. with the way I look too. And I am now an Artist too.

        Art is a perfect example of how basically society’s perspective has changed from the more rounded or even voluptuous women in classical paintings to the time when the Kate Moss like body type was rampant. Now we still have to get out of that. It is nice to see a few ‘larger’ models around and even popular singers belting it out and making beautiful music no matter how overweight they may be.

  6. Wow, this is timely. I literally just got out of the shower thinking about doing a video on this very subject, not from a depression standpoint, but a motivated, high-energy view. I’ve been on a fitness path for a little over a year now, and seen some really dramatic results, part of which has been an incredible amount of physical energy to be able to chase my young son around the playground a lot easier than I did before.

    An unexpected side effect is the seemingly boundless energy I have for getting work done. My day job still drags, but whenever I come back to my art and my writing, I am mentally pumped, ready to tackle a multitude of projects. I probably have too many projects right now and need a bit more focus, but I know I definitely have the energy to manage that.

    1. Hey Dave–thanks for your inspiration! It sounds like you have energy coming from two directions: from your fitness path, and from doing what you love. I feel the energy in your words–keep writing! It’s good stuff : )

  7. Listed below are my symptoms:. *Sleep to prevent issues.

    *Lack of inspiration. *Lack of optimism. *Headaches. *Eat
    a great deal or not enough. *Loss appealing. *Think excessive.
    *Feelings of loneliness. *Crying a lot.. Really weird because sometimes I feel ok as long
    as We are distracted. Nevertheless i’m not really, I just close-up and don’t feel like me personally.

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