Exercising when you feel depressed

Jodie gives her advice on staying active when you have a mental health issue

Written by Jodie Kenny


We’re always told that exercise is important for mental health, but why is that? When we exercise, endorphins are released. These are chemicals in the brain that make us feel good. The more we exercise, the more these endorphins are released and the better we feel. Your physical and mental health are very closely connected. Neglecting one will lead to the other deteriorating. Think about it – when you have a cold, a flu, a vomiting bug, what’s your mood like? Miserable right? That’s because of the connection between mental and physical health. Likewise, when you’re feeling down or upset over something, you might feel physically sluggish or run down. The link between mental and physical health can’t be denied or ignored. It’s important that both the mental and physical aspects of our health are nurtured. 

But what about when your mental health is so bad that you can hardly leave bed? When struggling with mental health, even the most mundane tasks can seem to take astronomical effort. So how on Earth are you supposed to mind your physical health when your mental health is struggling? I’ve been there, and honestly some days I still am there, but I’ve come up with a few ways to get moving enough to benefit your mental health, even when you don’t feel like it.

Do little bits at a time

If you throw yourself into an intense exercise regime then you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Throwing yourself into intense cardio for an hour a day, 6 days a week, is setting yourself up to crash and burn. Build your exercise up slowly instead of all at once. Every little piece is a step closer to feeling better. Little pieces can add together to build up to something great. 


Yoga is one of my most recommended activities for anyone struggling with mental illnesses. Firstly, it increases oxygen intake and regulates breathing. Secondly, it stretches the body and builds strength without you even noticing. And lastly, it can be carried out in bed if you really can’t get up. Which means no excuses! You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your bed if it’s too much. Side note – ideally yoga should be carried out on a more supportive surface, but if you really can’t leave bed then do what you can. 

Find something you enjoy

Love dancing? Try zumba or some other form of dance exercise. Like team sports? Find a local one. Fan of fight scenes? Try a martial arts class. There are so many different ways to get physical activity in that there’s bound to be one you enjoy. And with the internet, you don’t even have to leave your house if you don’t want to! You can find a variety of workouts at the tips of your fingers. 

Go for walks

I’m not talking about speed walking or power walking laps around the park all day. A simple 5-10 minute stroll around your estate or to the end of your road can make a big difference to how you’re feeling. The fresh air and being outdoors, even if it’s just briefly, can make a huge change to your mood. If you can manage then try to get one of these mini walks in every day. 

Include some friends

If you make plans to go on a run or to go to an exercise class then invite your friend! If you do things with others then you’re less likely to quit or avoid attending. It means you’re less likely to cancel and more reliable! You’ll also get the added bonus of socialising and spending time with someone you like. It’s also more fun working out with others!

Remove negative vocabulary

Remove words like ‘have’ or ‘need’ from your vocabulary. These words make your brain feel like you’re being forced into exercise. Instead try substitute them with more positive words like ‘want’ or ‘choose’, allowing you to have a more positive outlook. It may feel silly but changing to a positive mindset will make it easier to work out. 

Getting ready to exercise helps 

Simply getting changed into workout clothes will make you more likely to work out! So get straight into them when you wake up, without even thinking about it. This way you’ll be more likely to work out later on!

There are plenty of small ways that you can incorporate physical exercise into your routine. You don’t have to change your entire routine to get some exercise in, in fact it’s better if you don’t! Find a way to get exercise in without shifting your entire timetable.

You don’t have to be running marathons to be fit, and the small changes you make can cause a big difference. It can yield hugely positive results for both your mental and physical health. The link between mental and physical health is undeniable, and it’s important to nourish both!

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