Why do some people quickly dismiss the idea of bringing exercise into their daily routine, particularly given how important we know it is for general health, not to mention improving symptoms of depression? In exploring this a bit with clients, I have found they have a variety of automatic thoughts about this topic. Some common ones are, “It’s too hard,” “I’ve tried that before and it doesn’t work,” “ I don’t have the time,” “I don’t know where to start,” “I don’t believe it will help,” “I can’t afford the membership to a gym,” “I don’t like to exercise,” and so forth. Do any of these thoughts sound familiar to you? I have a couple of pages in my Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy Workshop that address the difficulty with change, and common obstacles to doing things that can be helpful. You might check them out.
If you find yourself rejecting the idea of exercise, you might think about the answers to these questions: What is the cost of having good mental health? Why don’t I value myself enough to schedule this time for myself and my well being? Why do I look for excuses not to exercise rather than excuses to start exercising?
When you actively and regularly engage in an exercise routine, you are sending out some powerful messages to yourself and to the world: “I am worthwhile and important,” “I deserve to spend time on myself improving my well being,” “I care about myself,” and “I want to feel better!” These thoughts may not be in your awareness, but they are there, and they are important positive thoughts to have when you are depressed.
Another benefit of exercise is the social support that can occur. If you join a gym, a sports team, an exercise group, or the like, you can make friends with similar interests. These kinds of teams and groups often support its members so that everyone can succeed in their efforts. Alternatively, you might simply ask a friend or relative to join you in your new workout routine so that you can support and motivate each other. Personally, having a workout buddy has worked very well for me over time to maintain a regular exercise schedule. Even if I do not feel like working out on a particular day, I respond well to encouragement from my buddy. On such days, I always feel good when I finish up my routine and I’m very glad that I got it done.
If you still find yourself struggling about whether to introduce an exercise routine into your life, you might try an experiment. For just one month (four weeks), commit to completing an exercise routine for 30 minutes, 5 days each week. Use a calendar to plan out the days and times. In a notebook, record the quality of your mood each day, particularly before and after you exercise. You might use a scale from 0-10 with 0 being the most depressed you have ever felt, and 10 indicating the happiest you have ever been. Also record your mood at other regular times such as in the morning during breakfast, or before you go to bed at night. If, after the four weeks are up, you find no improvement or benefit to exercise, then you can choose to discontinue it. If you find it to be beneficial, then you have a great start with doing something very important for yourself. What have you got to lose… besides your depressed mood? Good luck! You can do it!