8 Ways To Motivate Yourself To Exercise When You're Depressed
by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
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Finding the motivation to maintain an exercise routine isn't easy for anyone, and it can be especially difficult for those of us struggling with depression or other mental health disorders. One of the most universal symptoms of mental illness (or any chronic disease at that) is fatigue, which can make even the most mundane, everyday tasks — like showering, getting ready for work, completing chores, or working out — feel like a challenge. Luckily, there are simple things you can do to ensure your basic routine doesn't completely fall to the wayside, including a handful of hacks for exercising when you're depressed.

Science has shown that exercise can alleviate symptoms of depression. In fact, TIME reported on Aug. 8 that a large new study found exercising anywhere between two to six hours a week seems to reap the most mental health benefits. However, though exercise is often recommended for depression, finding the energy to workout can be a serious struggle when you're living with chronic mental health issues. Depression can make dealing with your day-to-day responsibilities energy-zapping, so it's not surprising that self-care routines like exercise are often infeasible. That's why receiving unsolicited advice that you should "try yoga," or "just exercise," can be super unhelpful and frustrating AF for people who live depression.

However, if regular sweat sessions are something that boosts your mood, maintaining your exercise routine may be a matter of tricking yourself into feeling motivated. As someone who lives with mental illness, here are eight tried and true hacks I've found helpful for staying active, even when you are depressed.


Start Simple

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If you've been feeling low energy, it's probably a good idea to revamp your exercise routine with something simple to avoid getting too overwhelmed. Try starting with a 20 minute stroll, and work up to a longer walk, or jog if that's your preferred type of exercise. Also, don't underestimate the power of a simple stretching routine to help you stay active, and get back into the swing of things.


Exercise At Home

If you're finding it particularly difficult to get dressed and to leave your apartment to exercise, try not to push yourself past your limit. Luckily, you don't need a gym to break a sweat: Download a free exercise app, use Amazon Alexa as a personal trainer, or browse Instagram to find a routine you can commit to — without leaving the comfort of your home.


Enlist The Help Of A Friend

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Depression can make you feel isolated and alone, and the best way to combat that is by reaching out to your support system. Finding a friend that can be your workout buddy could be super beneficial, especially when you are feeling depressed. According to NBC News, research shows that exercising in groups can help you stay motivated and holds you accountable. It also releases more endorphins than solo workouts do. Meaning, you'll get more mood-boosting hormones that can help improve your mental health if you commit to working out with a buddy.


Try A HIIT Workout

If you really want to feel the burn from your workout, but know you have limited energy, consider trying a High-Intensity Interval Training (aka, HIIT) workout once or twice a week. HIIT workouts typically run ten to thirty minutes long, and consist of combining low-intensity aerobic exercise (like walking) with burst of high-intensity exercise (like sprinting as fast as you can).

Though HIIT workouts only last a short amount of time, The New York Times reported in 2015 that HIIT has been shown to be extremely effective for people with chronic health issues — improving cardiovascular health, glucose levels, and improving overall health. Not sure where to start? Try searching simple HIIT workouts on YouTube to start


Plan Ahead

If your depression is causing major fatigue, try to plan your sweat sessions ahead of time. While you're at it, set an alarm, and lay out your clothes ahead of time. This way, you can be a little more prepared for your workout, and hopefully, you can avoid unnecessary stress that may surround it.

Of course, depression has no rhyme or reason, so if you have a glimpse of energy and motivation to exercise, go for it! Oppositely, if that alarm goes off and you're feeling exhausted, do what feels best for you in the moment.


Try A New Activity

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Mustering up excitement or curiosity during a depressive episode can be tough, especially when it comes to exercising. If you want to work out, but can't get excited about it, try a new activity or exercise class that's always interested you to beat the boredom. Goat yoga? Goat for it! Or, try browsing your area's ClassPass options to see what's new and different.

Working out should never feel like a punishment or chore; if it does, that's your cue to switch up your routine.


Work With A Trainer

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If you have the funds, consider hiring a personal trainer that understands mental health to help you stay active when you're depressed. Much like having a workout buddy, a personal trainer can help support you in identifying whatever your fitness goals are and maintaining them. Don't be afraid to call around, ask questions, and disclose whatever you feel comfortable sharing, so you can find a personal trainer that you vibe with. A lot of gyms will have a personal training option built in to your plan, so it might be worth looking into.


Be Gentle With Yourself

Overall, listening to your body and mind, and being gentle with yourself is essential to developing a healthy relationship with exercise. There may be days when your workout routine doesn't go as planned, but bogging yourself down in negativity will only demotivate you. Try not to be your own biggest critic, and be mindful and patient of your mental health.


Struggling with mental health issues and simultaneously maintaining a regular exercise routine can be challenging, but it's not impossible. If you find breaking a sweat benefits your mental health, trying some of these hacks could make it a hell of a lot more manageable.