Home » Happiness » Exercise vs. Depression: Round 1. FIGHT!

Exercise vs. Depression: Round 1. FIGHT!

“It occurs to us that exercise is the more normal or natural condition and that being sedentary is really the abnormal situation,” Holmes says.


Hey there, internet. I have a confession to make. I have a half marathon in a month, and I’ve only run 2 miles in the last 20 days.

It’s not that I’m busy. I spent the other night reading Fark on my iPhone while watching Good Eats reruns.

It’s not that I’m sick or injured. I haven’t had a cold or even a blister for months.

It’s not that I’m super stressed. I launched a pretty kick-ass website for a client just last week.

It’s that… I am seriously bummed!

Have you ever felt like this? There isn’t anything wrong with your life. Maybe the kitchen’s a little messy, but whatever, it’s not like you’re going to be featured on Locked Up Abroad. You’re really tired, but you go to bed at 2am. At work, you can’t seem to keep a train of thought consistent between your e-mail app, browser and spreadsheets, so it takes twice as long to do anything that doesn’t include a lolcat. In fact, lolcats don’t make you lol anymore. You can’t muster up the motivation to do anything appealing, because none of it sounds appealing anymore. You’re just tired. And sometimes a little teary-eyed. And your stomach hurts. You don’t really hang out with your friends anymore. (Tired.) You wonder what the hell happened to your workout program. (Tired.) You loathe yourself a little bit for spending perfectly productive moments lurking on Twitter instead of crossing something off of your ever-growing to-do list… but you can’t bring yourself to care enough to actually do anything about it. (Screw “tired,” I’m exhausted!)

If you feel like that regularly, or persistently*, then I’m afraid that you could has a sad. Um, I mean, I think I might have mild depression.

*If these feelings are severe, make daily life difficult, impact your relationships or persist for longer than two weeks — or if your thoughts ever turn to self-harm — immediately call a doctor or health professional. Depression is a disease, and you deserve treatment that will help you live a happy and healthy life.

I like to think that I’m a happy person, but I’m definitely prone to bouts of the blues. That’s one of the main reasons that fitness is so important to me: Studies show that exercise not only alleviates mild depression, it keeps it from coming back. Fitness: As effective as drugs like Zoloft for mild to moderate depression. And 30 minutes of getting your heart rate up boosts your mood immediately. Bonus! Instant gratification.

Smits uses the immediate mood boost as a way to motivate patients with depression (which, of course, manifests in a chronic lack of motivation) to get moving. Instead of a barrier to exercise, Smits suggests, depression can become a reason to exercise. “You feel crappy, so you get on the treadmill, and you look back and you say, ‘Wow, I feel much better,’ ” he says.


Every time I’ve felt like punching life in the face or crawling in a hole to cry, going out for a 30-minute run or a 60-minute cruise on my bike has definitely made me feel better.

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.

–James E. Starrs

I know, it’s not that easy. I can’t count the number of times in the past month that the weather and my schedule and energy have aligned to make a perfect opportunity to put on my shoes and run… and yet I didn’t.

I’m going to try thinking of it as taking my medicine. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it, you just have to do it, you know?

How do you motivate yourself to exercise when you’re down in the dumps?

9 thoughts on “Exercise vs. Depression: Round 1. FIGHT!

  1. Great post Elaine. I admire your frankness and your determination! As someone who has battled depression for many years, I agree that exercise is one of the best ways to combat it. Specifically, the practice of yoga asana (and meditation) has helped me enormously. In the past I’ve been on SSRI’s several times, but since I began to practice and teach yoga I have not needed to resort to medication.

    How do I motivate myself to exercise when I’m in the dumps? I do some pranayama and pop a headstand!

    1. Thanks, Kim! It doesn’t seem like many athletes suffer from and/or are willing to talk about depression, so I do want to be frank about it. Also, great ideas! Headstands are incredibly energizing. And I can’t believe I never thought of doing pranayama at home.

  2. I struggle with this myself. I’m actually having one of those moments right now… I feel like I got smacked with the tired stick, and I’m grumpy as hell. The thought of getting exercise exhausts me, and I have so many great excuses. Well, two great excuses… the kids! Also, the heat, the sun, the time, the cost. I feel lazy, though I know that I’m not. Ugh, hard to make sense.

    I’ve had depression as long as I can remember, and take a low dose of zoloft to help me be a little more human. It usually works really well, but my Mom is dying and that’s counteracting a lot of my progress.

    Anyways, I’ll be following you. 🙂 Maybe even get up off my arse and follow your example, too.

    1. Oh Elizebeth, I’m so sorry about your mom. You can’t really blame yourself for being down in the dumps when you’re going through something like that. And I know what you mean, about having all those conflicting feelings about your situation that don’t make sense. I agree that you’re definitely not lazy, though. You have goats, for pete’s sake! 😉 Hard to be lazy when you have kids AND goats.

      One of these days, maybe I’ll take your example and see a doctor about a low dose of something if I keep having problems with this!

  3. Hi Elaine!
    Really exciting to see your blog, congrats! And congrats on being so open. Sorry you’re down in the dumps right now. For myself, exercise doesn’t make me feel immediately better all of the time (in fact, sometimes I have a major crash *after* a run, or just want to cry while I’m running) so that motivation does not exist for me (I wonder if there are others who feel that way). But it’s something I try to do both for reasons of vanity, and for the hope of longer term health. I have thought a lot about exercising for these abstract reasons, and it still provides only very minimal encouragement. However, I have found that things that are fun and social, like a dance class, make me feel good. And at Burning Man this year, I realized how much I liked being on my bike to run errands (like go to the Porta Potties, or make a quick jaunt back to the tent for sunscreen, or…) . It seemed more natural to me to exercise with a purpose, not just for an abstract reason. I feel like I have accomplished tasks when the exercise is part of a bigger project and it makes it seem less like “oh shoot, I don’t have time to exercise because I have to do this this and this”. Well, I know I just went of on a tangent, but I wanted to mention it…

    I’m really actually very excited about reading your upcoming posts, because I could really use some ways to motivate myself, especially with winter approaching.

    Keep up the great writing, and hope you come out of your low spot soon.


    1. Thanks Darcy! Yeah, I’m thinking about joining CrossFit for the social aspect of training. Running is hard specifically because it’s solo. The only thing that keeps me going sometimes is the Reno-Tahoe Odyssey — that’s super social, and if I don’t train for it, I can’t run it! Events are great, but the last running event I did by myself was just depressing.

      I totally agree with exercising with a purpose, too! We were built to use our bodies to do everyday things that we increasingly delegate to technology, so of course purpose would be a natural motivator. And biking? Awesome!!! I was really good last summer about biking to work and the grocery store, but I’ve hardly biked at all this summer. It’s a pity, because it’s fun and active.

    2. Oh, PS, I’ve totally cried during Bikram Yoga at least twice. It was a little less embarrassing than in another group class situation because it’s hard to tell the tears from the sweat. But yeah, every once in a while, exercise just exacerbates the situation. 😛

  4. There’s a reason why Nike’s slogan works. “Just do it” is what you say to yourself when you know you have to do something (run) but you don’t feel like it.

    So, just do it, and you’ll feel better when you’re done 🙂

    1. I think the last time I told myself to just do it, I still ended up spooning Nutella out of a jar on the couch instead, lol. Maybe I shouldn’t characterize my motivation as “low” as much as “nonexistent”? When I actually do just do it, I definitely feel better, though!

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