Exercise and Depression

I was inspired to write this post after I got this comment on one of the HoopRock videos I posted yesterday.

Keep it up man, i was trying to lose weight at the start of the year but so many stuff happened on my life that made me felt so down and depressed that i gave up on exercising and stopped eating in a healthy way… I was checking out my subscriptions (something i rarely do) tonight and i found this video in it, i remember that your videos back then were a nice inspiration for myself, after i saw this video i visited your blog and told myself that i should stand up and try again, thank you man and please keep the good work up.

It’s easy for me to say that when you feel too depressed to exercise is when exercise will benefit you the most, but that doesn’t make it easy to do. The angst that comes along with feeling depressed makes everything seem pointless. Sometimes you’re so depressed you almost don’t want to feel better because… I don’t really know why, I just know what it’s like to feel that way.

Notice I keep talking about feeling depressed, not about being depressed. Clinical depression is a whole different thing I’m not qualified to discuss. But as a human being I am qualified to talk about feeling depressed and feelings of anxiety, having experienced them first hand many times. And I can tell you without hesitation that exercise will help with both, every single time. In my case it not only helps, but it relieves them. When I’m done I feel re-energized with an overall sense of well-being. For years I have been and continue to be amazed at how I can feel so down when I get home from work and so great after a workout, even if it’s only twenty minutes of doing weights. Hooping and jumping are different; I never feel so depressed that it’s hard to start because I know I’ll start feeling great a few minutes after I start. With weights it’s not so quick, but even there it’s getting better all the time.

But the issue is, how do you get past that “what’s the point of anything?” feeling?

Lower Your Expectations

Way back when I started taking computer classes in 1978 I would feel like I was too burned-out / tired to study in the evening after work. From past experience I knew if I rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes I would feel like studying, so I bought one. Now notice that I said I already knew riding would make me feel good, so why wasn’t I already riding or doing some sort of exercise on a regular basis? The answer is it was just too depressing. Even thirty minutes was too much of a commitment if you had to do it day after day after day, and I had tried more than once to get a routine going. So even now when I had a real reason in the immediate future I couldn’t get past that feeling. Long story short here’s what finally worked:

Just make an effort but make it every day

That takes the pressure off. It’s the time commitment that makes it so hard, so get rid of it. I separated starting from doing and just focused on the starting part. I gave myself six weeks to start worrying about the doing part. And to start, all you have to do is make an effort.

Here’s the funny thing. Once you get started it’s a lot easier to keep going, which is true of most things in life. But even if you keep going, there’s no commitment. You started, so you’re done whenever you want to be.

Now it’s still no cinch. There’s a lot of psychological stuff going on that’s going to try and make you fail. I think we all resist being controlled, even if it’s on a schedule we set up for ourselves. It seems funny to me now that I had so much trouble nearly every day for the first two or three weeks. I didn’t even know if it would work; I was afraid it would be like every time before and I would just quit after a few days. So, in spite of myself I rode everyday, and to the best of my recollection I made it the full 30 (it may have been only 20) minutes everyday. Sometimes I’d want to quit within the first few minutes, and I could have, but I started realizing I wouldn’t feel any different than when I started if I quit too soon. And everyday I felt great afterwards.

Knowing is not enough, you have to repeatedly experience the difference exercise makes on a daily basis

The chain is the key. Even if on some days all you do is “make an effort” and nothing else, if you keep the chain going and make an honest effort, you’ll start to feel the difference and eventually you’ll start to crave it, just as I did. But if you start taking days off just because you “don’t feel like it” then you probably will never feel the difference strongly enough that it becomes an actual appetite.

Eventually the expectation of how I would feel after riding made it easy to start.

Notice I wasn’t concerned about losing weight or being fit. I only cared about feeling good enough to study. And I have to say, in spite of Billy Crystal and Fernando Lamas, that it’s better to feel good than to look good.

If you really work on feeling good instead of looking good you get both

Why should that be true? Because feeling good satisfies an appetite, or maybe I should say satisfying an appetite makes you feel good. If exercising, like eating or drinking, made you feel good while you were doing them everyone would be fit. That’s why I never have trouble with starting a HoopRock session. Just like eating I have trouble stopping, not starting.

And that’s why you get weight loss and fitness as part of the deal. The better you feel the more you work out and the fitter you get. And if you can find something fun to do you work out even more.

How My Experience Bears This Out

At 67 I’m in the best shape of my life. My resting pulse rate is in the 50’s and my blood pressure is actually lower than normal. I’m gradually losing the last of the remaining fat apron I’ve been wearing for fifty years. None of this would be true if I hadn’t started riding that stationary bike 36 years ago for reasons that had nothing to do with health, fitness, or losing weight.

The Quest For Endorphins may be about feeling good, but you get so much more.

Feeling Depressed Can Be The Key That Gets You Started

It took a lot of years for me to get my head right on this, because up until maybe eighteen months ago there were days when I just felt too depressed after work to do weights. Then it got to where I would think I was too depressed, but after sitting around for awhile I couldn’t stand feeling that way anymore so I would go and do the weights anyway. And of course I was always glad I did afterwards.

But for about the last year I just go ahead and do them. Why be depressed any longer than you have to be?

An Example From Today

In spite of being on a diet, I ate way too much when we went to Lucille’s last night for bar-b-que and I was fairly miserable and still kind of stuffed when I woke up this morning. Sunday morning is always kind of depressing because the next day is Monday and now I’ve made it worse because all I can do is kind of drag around. I definitely did not feel like doing weights, but even more definitely I did not want to continue feel lousy, so as soon as I could I did the weights, and as usual, I felt great afterwards.

The Key to Happierness

I can’t say that exercise is the key to happiness, but almost by definition, all things being equal, when you feel good you feel happier than when you feel bad.

Everyone has problems and reasons to be depressed that no one else can understand. You may feel like my advice is useless because of that. All I can say is every single time I’ve felt depressed exercise has helped and every single time I’ve been depressed and not exercised I just kept feeling depressed.

Formalize The Commitment

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just commit to making an effort every day to work towards feeling re-energized and having a sense of well-being and keep it. Before you know it you’ll start to feel the difference.

 

I'll be 70 in less than 6 months (it's Dec 2016 now) and never expected to be in this kind of shape or have this kind of stamina, at any age. Then I discovered JumpRock at 55 and HoopRock at 66. Both are so much fun it's actually easy to get fit and stay that way; this blog is to encourage you to follow my example and be in great shape yourself going into old age - that's all I can promise for now - we'll see how actual old age goes. I'm highly optimistic.
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4 Responses to Exercise and Depression

  1. Juan José says:

    Thank you very much, really, i found this post really helpful not just because the motivation factor it has in it, it is much more than that since you’re pointing out the depression and the feelings of anxiety (which is the stuff i experience the most) also when you mention how you felt when you got your stationary bike is exactly the way i felt when i first tried to get into exercising… This post makes so much sense for me because you just wrote what i actually wanted to read, i really hope it helps some other people that has been through the same things as me, or should i say as us!

    From now on my objective at exercising would be for the sake of feeling good and not for the sake of looking good like the way it used to be, i can’t thank you enough, really!

    Please take care, keep the good work up and i hope i can write to you any time soon.

    • Rich says:

      Thanks for the wonderful feedback. I knew almost thirty years ago that exercising everyday was making a difference for me in a big way but I had nothing to demonstrate. It was after I started having fun jumping to music that I really began to think I was onto something that could make a difference for other people and then You Tube came along and gave me a way to do that. Now your response inspires me to keep up with blog posts in addition to the videos. It’s kind of a subtle concept really so I think most people just kind of let it slide by, so it’s great to hear that someone gets what I’m trying to say.

  2. Michael Washington says:

    I so agree with everything you said. I have got to get more exercise during the week. I figured what’s the point because I don’t have much time, but if my goal is to feel better, I now see the point!

    • Rich says:

      That’s great. The more you do it the more the realization sinks in because you appreciate the difference over and over again.