I didn’t care at all about fitness until I was in my mid to late 20s. Mainly because I have spent the majority of my life with depression, and I didn’t understand how fitness could help. I wish I had taken it seriously when I was younger. I should have been that kid hustling to run a 6 minute mile in gym class. Maybe I should have ridden my bike more instead of asking my mom for a ride.
That being said, the past is the past. All you can do is focus on the NOW. Maybe I should have done those things, but I didn’t, and here I am.
Fitness became a huge part of my life because I was tired of being not only unhappy with how I look, but unhappy in general. In fact, as I write this, I am on the stationary bike at the gym. (I made a goal to virtually bike/walk to Walt Disney World and I am about 300 or so miles away. A little outside of Gainesville, FL.)
Fitness can have a huge impact on your mental health. That has proven true for me over the years, and it proves true for many, many people.
Why fitness & depression are linked
When you have a mental illness, there are a lot of interesting things happening in your brain. One of them is that your brain has issues producing key neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. Those are feel-good chemicals that your body needs to be happy.
Luckily for your brain, there are ways to artificially create these chemicals in our bodies. One way is medication. Lots of antidepressants work to encourage serotonin production. Another way is through exercise.
Therefore, one way to improve your mental health is to break a sweat.
How you can get started
I will be the first to admit, it is not always easy to get started on a fitness routine when you are depressed. Sometimes the last thing you want to do is get off the couch and work out. To this day, I go through seasons where this is true for me.
So, what can you do?
Evaluate your situation
Look at the way your life is. I will use myself as an example. I am currently in a season where I am trying to get back into the fitness game. To be honest, I had to take a hard look at the way my life was going.
I had little to no energy. I was gaining weight. (Nothing wrong with that, but for me personally, it was not something I wanted.) I was unhappy and stressed.
All of these are excellent reasons to get up and get moving. So, I recommitted to going to the gym at least 3 days a week for 45-60 minutes.
Speak positively to yourself
I can’t say enough good things about positive affirmations. Every single person on Planet Earth can benefit from them.
It’s not even that difficult. All you need to do is make a list (either mental or physical) of things you want yourself to believe.
- I am strong
- Every day, I can do it
- I can make it to the gym today
- Each day, I have the motivation to achieve my goals
These affirmations are generic and can apply to basically anybody but they are a good place to start. Say them to yourself every day, multiple times a day if necessary. Over time, your elastic brain will recognize them as true.
Take that first step
This is often the hardest, but most crucial, step. Simply put, you gotta just get up and do it. You will never get better about exercising if you don’t get up and try it in the first place.
That being said, take it slow, especially if you have spent a long time being sedentary. You won’t (and shouldn’t) go from being a couch potato to running a full marathon overnight.
Start by walking around the block 3 days a week. It’s not much, but it will begin to establish physical activity as a habit.
After a couple weeks, you could try to walk around the block twice. The point is to work your way up in increments.
Write it down
I fully believe in the power of writing things down. Here are 10 really great reasons why you should write things down:
- Your mind lies.
- Think on paper.
- Organize your thoughts.
- It sinks in better.
- Free up your mind.
- Calm your mind.
- Let things go.
- Avoid task saturation.
- Rehydrate ideas.
- Shelve things.
Set a SMART goal
When you are setting fitness goals, it is important to make them SMART. What does that mean?
It means the goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Here is an example about Bob, who wants to get into fitness, but is in a period of depression.
Bob’s goal: I want to work out more.
Why is this not a good goal? It is not specific. What does “more” mean? It is might be measurable, achievable, and realistic, but it is not time-bound. There is no deadline.
Bob’s SMART goal: I will walk 3 miles a day, 3 times a week until September 30, when I will try jogging 1 mile.
His new goal is more specific, it is something he can measure progress on, it is achievable for him, it is realistic. And he gives himself a deadline!
Remember why it’s important
Exercise is so important. In those seasons where you find it difficult, you may need to remind yourself WHY you are doing it fairly often. You may need to remind yourself why fitness and depression make good friends.
Things to remember about fitness & depression
Exercise is good for your body.
It is good for your mind.
Exercise makes you feel happier.
Exercise gives you a better quality of life.
What more could you ask for?