Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash
Are you feeling down and unable to motivate yourself to get active? The struggles may be related to depression or the fact that your physical health is deteriorating or both. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found that participants with high levels of fitness were less likely to eventually die from heart disease following a depression diagnosis. In fact, exercise can be just as beneficial to a person's good health as taking an effective antidepressant. The sooner you engage in physical activity, the better the chance of preventing depression, which will help lower the risk of heart disease. Exercise reduces inflammation which in turn lowers the risk of both depression and heart disease. Significant research supports the claim that exercise has a positive effect on both physical and psychological problems, but being consistent with an exercise regimen can be challenging. Of course when you're depressed, the drive, motivation, and energy to exercise are all greatly reduced so the challenge is greater. What can be done to increase motivation?
For starters set aside a specific time to exercise and work at maintaining a consistent schedule. If you miss or can't motivate one day, avoid discouragement or blame, but get back to it the next time. Keep a journal or log so you can track your progress. Having a tangible way to measure your gains is motivating, which is why fitness trackers like fit bits are so popular. Create different routines or programs so you avoid getting bored with the same old exercise schedule. Enlist a friend to workout with you and to hold you accountable but also to provide encouragement and support, especially at times when you feel like giving up. Work on reframing your critical thoughts and replace these with encouraging and supportive words. Our thoughts impact our feelings which trigger our behaviors so changing the way you think can result in different actions. Often depressed and anxious people fixate on worst case scenarios and anticipate the bad, so considering a positive outcome can make a big difference.
While depression can be both physiological and psychological, actions like exercise can change brain chemistry even without medication. The problem for many people is that they want a quick fix with little effort on their part. In some cases medication is necessary, but other strategies can be equally as effective if the person can be consistent and motivated to implement the tools. Cognitive and behavioral strategies which include physical activity can be effective in treating depression. Exercise can change a person's physical and psychological well-being, but it requires perseverance and consistency to be beneficial. As we age and our body slows down it is especially important that we keep moving and stay active. We will also benefit from finding purpose after retirement, connecting more with family and friends, and relying on our faith to keep us centered. Life is constantly changing and presenting challenges, but our response to the stressors we encounter can determine the impact.