Thursday, 14 April 2016

Using exercise as treatment for depression: getting started

Exercise as an aid for depression is becoming more widely talked about, with research suggesting it can be as effective as anti-depressant medication for mild to moderate cases. But if you're struggling with depression, taking the first step into a more active life can feel daunting - especially if you haven't exercised regularly before.

Here are four tips to help you get started:

1. It's OK to start small

Energy isn't something you have in buckets right now, and fitness isn't something that appears over night, so cut yourself some slack and give yourself some time to let it grow.

If you're not sure you're ready to dive in to a completely new routine, you could start off by simply increasing how active you are in your day to day life: taking the stairs instead of the lift, or going for a walk on your lunch break.

Any exercise is better than no exercise.

2. Make it something you enjoy

Some people think getting active means having a gym membership, but that doesn't have to be the case if that doesn't appeal to you. There are so many ways to get active and there's no reason to spend your energy (and possibly money) on something that doesn't suit you.

Other options could include joining a local sports team, going for a run, going on a bike ride, doing a home workout video, playing football in your local park, going to a yoga studio, joining a dance class or even things like rock climbing and martial arts.

If you try something and you hate it then remember that you haven't failed, it's probably just time to try something else. Do what works for you.

3. Make a plan

Depression and anxiety can leave you feeling a loss of control. Creating an exercise plan can be a small but important step in taking back some of that control and giving yourself some care and structure again.

Planning can mean anything from simply writing down when you're intending to exercise in the upcoming week, to following a specific training plan. Again, it depends what suits you.

If you want to give a training plan a go then there are plenty available online for you to pick from and many are available for free. Options include gym and home friendly workout plans (such as Fitness Blender, Tone It UpKayla Itsines' Bikini Body Guides and the Nike Training Club app), yoga practice plans (such as Yoga With Adriene or via the Cody app) and running training plans (such as the Nike Running app or Couch to 5K app). Alternatively you could speak to a personal trainer at your local gym who will create a tailored plan for you.

Whether you follow a specific plan or not, if you schedule in your exercise then you're more likely to stick to it.

4. Don't put too much pressure on yourself

Unfortunately depression doesn't have a quick fix and some days it might be all you can do to just get out of bed, let alone go for a run, and that's OK. If you can't face the exercise you had planned, take the day off or try a 10 minute walk around the block instead, and then try again tomorrow.

It's also important to remember that exercise as an aid for depression helps some people, but others need a completely different approach. So if you've tried a few different things but are still struggling, it's still important to try and keep active, but it might also be time to consider other treatment options with your GP.

Mental health charity Mind offer further advice, support and treatment option information via their website.

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