How To Start a Fitness Journey When You’re Depressed and Out of Shape
Exercise is a huge component of how I manage my mental health. I recently got out of the habit of exercising and had to restart my fitness routine. Here are some things I do when I need to start exercising again. I find that it is always really difficult to get started but after a few weeks I feel awesome and it is much easier to maintain. I have a ton of articles related to depression and anxiety if you’re struggling with mental health be sure to check them out. There is also a whole episode about fitness and mental health on my podcast you can listen to here.
When you’re just starting out just do something, it doesn’t matter how tiny. Do a yoga routine in your bed or go for a stroll around the block. As long as you’re adding a little more exercise or activity to your routine that’s all that matters. You can gradually add more activities or exercise for longer periods of time as you get more fit. The most important thing is to just to get started and not worry about how much you’re doing. Something is always better than nothing.
If you make any kind of progress when you’re getting started to make sure you celebrate. It’s easy to downplay your victories or beat yourself up for not doing more when you’re getting started. You need to train your brain to celebrate your victories. Focus on what you are doing and what you did get done instead of what you didn’t do. Beating yourself up is just going to make your progress more difficult. Starting a fitness journey is hard so celebrate the progress that you make.
Find Something You Like
If you know you hate running or hate going to the gym don’t make these things part of your fitness journey. You want to create a new routine for yourself that you will enjoy doing (or at least not hate). Things I’ve added to my weekly exercise routine include things I enjoy doing like walking my dog around my neighborhood, riding my bike on a nature trail or walking on the beach. Brainstorm some activities you wouldn’t mind doing a few times a week and try them out.
Try Something New
There are so many ways to exercise. Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something new and fun. I get super stressed going to new gyms or trying new workout classes but I’m always glad when I do it. There are so many options you can try if you’re willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone. There are classes and gyms for everything from kickboxing to pole dancing. It can be uncomfortable trying new things but it’s so worth to find something that you really like doing.
Make a Commitment
Once you find something you like doing try to figure out how you can fit it into your life. If you know you don’t realistically have the time to go to a gym or class after work try a home workout. Put your workouts on your schedule and make a commitment to yourself. If you’re interested in joining a supportive community of women who are using fitness as a tool to transform their life check out my 21 Day Total Transformation Challenge. This is a program that includes a whole library of on-demand workouts, meal plans and a Facebook community for support.
Know Your Why
I constantly struggle with staying motivated and finding reasons to exercise. I love how I feel after I exercise and when I’m in a routine it comes easy. However, it’s easy to skip a day, then two, and before I know it, I haven’t even walked around the block in weeks. My routine becomes a distant memory. Losing weight doesn’t motivate me to exercise. I actually like how I look – a little heavier and curvier. Even though I like my physical appearance, exercise is still a key to maintaining mental health. I focus on how exercise makes me feel instead of how it makes me look.
Here are some of the best reasons to exercise that don’t have to do with physical appearance
More Energy: This is a huge reason I exercise. It doesn’t matter the status of my mental health, I always want more energy. My job is pretty draining, and if I want to have the energy to do anything besides just punching the time clock, I need to exercise. Otherwise, I drag through the workday, get home, veg in front of the TV, fall asleep only to wake up and do it all over again. Exercising gives me more energy to do the things I enjoy after work that makes life more enjoyable.
Better Mood: When I feel myself starting to slip into a depressive episode, I hit the exercise double time. I’ve found it’s the only way I’ve been successful in re-engaging the world after a depressive bout is by exercising all the damn time. It’s freaking hard to make yourself work out when you’re depressed (trust me, I feel you) but I usually reach a point when I’m fed up with feeling lousy that I’ll do anything to snap out of it. You can start out slow if you need to but I find sometimes it’s best to go hard into it. I’ve even gone hardcore and did three short exercise sessions every day for a week. It gave my brain a hard reset and helped me get out of a funk. Check out my favorite ten-minute dance exercise videos here.
Better Health: I get sick all the freaking time. Like all the time. When I was young I used to smoke, drink and hardly ever sleep. I always had some kind of cold or sickness. I thought when I straightened out my lifestyle my immune system would straighten up but it didn’t. I have to stay on top of my health or I can end up with bronchitis and sinus infections on rotation. When I’m exercising I don’t get sick as often and I feel healthier overall. Also, it’s easier to eat healthier when I’m exercising. For whatever reason, when I stop exercising I am also way more likely to binge on junk food. In addition to an immune system boost, you’re going to be much healthier in the long run. Some of the numerous health benefits include stronger muscles and bones, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure.
Sleep Better: Whenever I stop exercising I can kiss my regular sleep schedule goodbye. Exercising regularly helps me sleep better and on a regular schedule. When I am rested I am more able to focus and be on top of my game. If you’re trying to resolve a mental health issue or any stressful situation you need to sleep. Period. You’re not going to be able to transform yourself when you’re sleep deprived.
Feel Strong: When I workout I feel like a badass. There’s something about having my body feel strong that’s empowering. If I go on a Netflix and couch bender I feel like a blah version of myself. Getting a workout in makes me immediately feel stronger plus I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
Alleviate Depression: If you feel like you need an emotional boost exercising is the best way to go. Exercising produces endorphins for your brain. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that ten minutes of exercise can be just as good for boosting your mood as a 40-minute workout and for some people exercise is just as effective as medication when treating depression (but take your freaking medication or get it if you need it!).
Improves Memory: When you exercise you lower a stress hormone in your brain called cortisol. Lower levels of cortisol allow your brain to function better. According to this Harvard study, exercise changes the brain in a way that improves memory and thinking skills. I have a terrible memory so I’ll take any help I can get.
There are so many reasons to exercise, I hope this helps motivate you. I hate that so much of the fitness industry focuses on appearance instead of well being. You look fine the way you are. Take care of your body because you love yourself and you want to feel your best not because you want to change how you look. There are so many reasons to exercise, think about what’s most important to you and try to use that for motivation.
Commit to doing some type of exercise three times this week.
I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering from a major disorder and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price. You can download a free printable list of hotlines here and join the free mental health support group on Facebook here. This post contains affiliate links, you can read my full disclosure policy here.
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