Workouts to ease depression

What do you do when you know you have to move, but can’t get yourself motivated?

Motivation is fleeting. Whether you’re feeling happy or sad, the motivation to workout will likely not always be at the top of mind. So the real question is how can you make sure you are able to stick to your workouts without motivation?

When you think about anything you’ve done for a long time consistently, you may realize you’ve become more proficient at that task. For example, we don’t always feel like brushing our teeth before going to bed, or taking out the garbage. However, once we get into the habit, we realize that it feels great to have clean teeth and to know that our oral health is up to par. It also feels great to get rid of the garbage in your house and have it disposed of, so that your house is nice and clean and doesn’t accumulate dirt and bacteria. 

These things can seem like a lot when you’re battling with depression or long bouts of sadness. The American Psychiatric Association, defines depression (major depressive disorder) as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act.” Things you were once interested in may seem exhausting or overwhelming. 

Some other symptoms of depression are as follows:

  • Feeling sad / having a depressed mood
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy / increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., inability to sit still, pacing, handwringing) or slowed movements or speech (severe enough to be observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

sad man

It’s no wonder working out is not at the top of your list. Even things like getting out of bed or stepping out of the house to walk your dog can feel monumental.

1 in 10 adults in the United States struggles with depression according to an article from Harvard Medical School. And although medical interventions such as antidepressants are a common way to treat depression, it does not mean that it is the only way!

Today, we’re going to go over why exercise can have similar effects to medicine and why whether you suffer from depression or random bouts of sadness, exercise is a great form of natural medicine to keep your mood at bay and avoid steep mood swings.

Disclaimer: If you are on medication, or feel you need to be treated with medical interventions, please speak to a doctor. Exercise can work in conjunction with a lot of medications, and it’s likely your doctor will not only prescribe you medication, but a movement regiment as well!

Why exercise helps ease depression

girl hugging punching bagRegular exercise scheduled into your week has many benefits on your mood!

Whether you schedule specific days or times to move isn’t as important. But planning a certain amount of moving time is extremely beneficial to your mood and nervous system.

Not only does exercise release feel-good endorphins, but it can also be used as a healthy coping mechanism to busy your mind.

The feel-good endorphins you feel when you exercise are known as endogenous cannabinoids. They trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to that of morphine! The reason I run is because I end up with this euphoric feeling known as a “runner’s high”. Thankfully, we don’t get addicted as easily to this runner’s high as we do to drugs like morphine, so we do not necessarily depend on this type of high. 

However, because it feels so good, it can be enough to get you to commit to an exercise routine or consistent workout schedule. That’s the goal!

How to get started

It’s a daunting thought, especially when we compare ourselves to others. If you are suffering from depression, it’s easy to get bogged down by how little you feel you’re capable of achieving, especially when you see others constantly “crushing” their workouts on social media. 

The first step: DO NOT COMPARE. 

Don’t even compare yourself to your past self.

Here’s why: You are not who you were yesterday. You aren’t going to be this person in 2 days or 2 weeks or even 2 years. Each day is a brand new start. You are able to create whatever you want or are capable of that day. 

Here are just a few ways to get started when you’re depressed, suffering from a bout of sadness, or simply not in the mood to workout for long periods of time:

  • Walk daily – For 10 minutes at lunch or go for a long walk to a bakery to grab a treat! If you’re able to, do it. Simply walk up and down a set of stairs if you don’t want to leave the house/apartment.2 girls swimming in sea
  • Dancing – Playing a bit of music in the morning to get you out of bed could be just what you need to get your day started. If you’re feeling sad, try to play something more upbeat (Try the Opposite Action skill!).
  • Gardening – It may not seem intense, but it requires a lot of dexterity, kneeling, squating down, and being on your hands and knees. You also get to look at beautiful plants, so that’s a bonus.
  • Swimming – I’m not one to go to a pool because it’s not as convenient for me, but if I’m close to an open body of water, sometimes I’ll dip my feet in. The cold water can be extremely shocking at first, but if you stay in long enough, and submerge your body, you could reap some major mood benefits. If swimming isn’t your think, check out my blog about cold showers here!
  • Low impact aerobics – You no longer need to leave your house or pay for classes in order to get a good workout in. Just sign into YouTube and you’ve got a hub full of different free low-impact (or HIIT) classes to try out in the comfort of your own home. That way you can end the class early or try a full 30 minutes of movement.
  • Housework – Not the most fun, but needs to be done! If you are not in the mood to workout, spend 30 minutes (set a timer) cleaning the house. Whatever you don’t finish can be done tomorrow! Everyone feels better in a cleaner space. Decluttering your house can help to declutter your brain.
  • Yoga – For some, this will mean simply meditating in a seated position. For others, it may start off with slow movements and then progress as you warm up. For me, I like to throw in traditional yoga poses in with stretches and mobility I’ve learned from Functional Range Conditioning. I’ve found some great videos on YouTube that take you through an FRC routine, such as this one if you’re strapped for time or this one if you’ve got more time. 


In general, I suggest doing any form of movement that helps you feel good. Sometimes you may not know what that is. The only way to find out is to try different things. Having a friend around to join you can help you get started!

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What physical activities do I enjoy? (If you enjoy none, try something new)
  • Do I like to workout alone or in a group? (Zumba vs lifting weights)
  • What type of exercise would fit my schedule best?
  • Do I have any physical limitations that would influence my exercise choice? (ex. pain in knees or not knowing how to do certain movements)
  • Do I have fitness goals? If not, can I create some and set a timeline?

If you haven’t noticed: these questions have nothing to do with depression. You are not your depression. You can suffer from depression or have it for the rest of your life, but you are not going to cease living just because of that. It can teach you some great lessons, and may make working out more challenging, but that does not mean you cannot grow from it!

Ask yourself these questions when you’re in a good place. When you’ve taken time to meditate, move a bit, or have done something to positively impact your mood.

You can also ask yourself these questions when you’re not in the best mood. This might give you an opportunity to try different activities you wouldn’t have thought of if you were feeling your best. For example, sometimes I just can’t get out of bed to go for a run (morning or evening), so instead, I may focus on light stretching and meditation so that I can ground myself.

The goal is not to feel better in that moment. It’s to find ways to move consistently and practice this healthy routine often enough that it becomes a habit. Movement is a healthy habit that will help you to naturally generate positive mood and feelings. According to the data, the focus should be on frequency of exercise rather than duration or intensity until the behavior has been well established. The goal is not to focus on fitness gains when working out to ease symptoms of depression, rather, it’s to stick to any form(s) of movement to see how your mood can improve over time!

What do you like to do to get moving when you’re feeling blue? When you’re stuck in a depression loop or feeling low, are you able to move, or have you noticed other activities give you more benefits, such as painting, reading, or cooking? Let me know down below!



Alexia Palmeri

Alexia Palmeri is a 28-year-old personal development enthusiast! She looks at life experiences as an opportunity to always learn and grow. Alexia is also a broadcast journalism graduate with a passion and knack for communications and media. She is always on the lookout for new trends on social media and keeps up to date with what's happening in the world. In her free time, Alexia enjoys socializing with family and loved ones, being in nature, cooking nourishing meals, and discovering new places to dine and adventure!

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