Fuck you depression, step 2: exercise

So I’m sure we’re all well aware of the both mental and physical health benefits of exercise. And to quote the inimitable Elle Woods:  “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” (Legally Blonde is my guilty pleasure movie, don’t judge!)

And I understand it’s very hard to get started with, particularly if you’re already feeling depressed, but I have to say I believe it works very well as a pre-emptive measure, and even during periods of depression can help make things less dire if you can just manage to get going. And it doesn’t have to be a major change. Just going for a short walk now and then when the weather is nice can already help a great deal. The human body thrives on being active, and a happy body leads to a happy(er) mind.

And this is coming from someone who does not naturally love exercise or sports. Especially team sports… In school I dreaded team sports even more than maths, and that’s saying something. Not only was I extremely uncoordinated, I also didn’t really take to the concept of people throwing round objects of various sizes at me, at which point I was expected to catch them, rather than  – you know, dodge them,  run away, or hold my arms over my face and scream (Volleyball was the worst. It’s always really obvious when it’s your fault in volleyball.)

I came to exercise in my early thirties, by way of necessity. I was really, really overweight, and I needed to do something about it. As anyone who has tried to lose weight knows,  even though what you eat is the most important part, you need to exercise to try to prevent muscle loss.

After several years of regular exercise (these days normally 5 workouts a week), I must admit I still do not actually enjoy it. BUT, I do enjoy the after effects. In the short term (post-workout) it makes me feel happier, in the long term it makes me feel better about myself – I feel healthier and fitter – indeed I am healthier and fitter. I feel stronger and more confident.

I will probably never be completely happy with myself, but there’s a satisfaction in knowing that I’ve done the things I can do to be happier and healthier.

It’s still a bit of a slog at times, and there are many (most) mornings where I do not want to get out of bed and jump around or go for a run, but I am so convinced of both the long and short term benefits of exercise that I mostly manage to get myself to do it anyway.

If you’re struggling, my tips are:

Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. For me, exercising in the morning works best, as I know from experience that if I leave it till I get home from work it’s too easy to find an excuse (I’m tired, I’m just going to finish this chapter, I’m just going to watch one episode etc. etc.) But in the morning, as long as I manage to flop myself out of bed, I might as well exercise as it’s not like I’m going to sit down and watch Netlfix at 6 AM.

Find the path of least resistance. Building on my previous statement – try to find a form of exercise you find enjoyable, or that you at least hate less than others. Just walking at a brisk pace is already good for you. Plus there’s that fresh air and sunlight that’s rumoured to do some good as well (vitamin D, people!)

Fake it till you make it. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. So however arduous it is, try to stick with your routine for let’s say a month, and you should start to find that it comes easier, and becomes more automatic.

Set specific goals. It definitely helped me to have a specific goal to work towards. I lost the weight, I’m stronger and fitter than ever, and my next goal is to run the Dam-tot-Dam race (16,2 km) in September. As well as of course keeping the weight from piling back on. Constant vigilance!

So, to recap: more exercise = less depression and less shooting your husband. 😉

But do take care of yourself, listen to your body and don’t push your limits more than is healthy. This week I’ve taken it a little more easy than I’d normally do but I’ve still gotten some workouts in and they do still make me feel better afterwards.