I know I need to exercise, but how do I get started? I hear this problem more often than any other.
Good news and bad news: getting started is the hardest part. BUT, once you get started, exercise will start to feel so rewarding that you will crave it.
Getting there can be tricky. And I get it. Starting an exercise routine without depression or anxiety is hard, but being that depression can take your will to live, establishing a consistent fitness routine can feel impossible.
IT IS POSSIBLE.
My passion and my goal—after overcoming paralyzing depression, addiction, and PTSD—is to empower others to take control of their bodies and minds so they can live amazing lives.
Enjoying life to the fullest is easiest to do in a fit, capable body. Exercise literally is powerful medicine that prevents and reverses depression and anxiety (not to mention heart disease, dementia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease).
If you're having trouble starting an exercise routine, put these tips into practice to CONQUER whatever is holding you back from your best, most badass life.
1. MAKE IT FUN, NOT A CHORE OR A PUNISHMENT
Evidence shows that you are likely to exercise less if you do it for weight-loss only. People who exercise for reasons other than appearance (health, strength, feel-good chemicals) exercise more frequently AND have a more positive body-image.
Choose activities that you enjoy.
Try to get outside. Hike, bike, swim, join a softball or kickball rec league, or get out your roller blades!
Embrace your inner child. Jump rope, play tag with your kids. Jump on a trampoline. Especially for those of us with PTSD and/or depression, these activities revive a childlike energy that is desperately missing from our lives.
Click here for a treasure trove of fun activities that won't even feel like exercise!
Never, ever treat exercise as a form of punishment.
Exercise is not punishment. It is a privilege. Exercise honors and respects your body. Not everyone gets a capable body. Celebrate yours by USING IT.
Remember that people exercise more frequently AND have a more positive body-image when they exercise for reasons other than appearance.
2. HARNESS THE POWER OF HABIT
Habits are extremely powerful, and the brain looooves forming them. Click here for sure-fire hacks to make exercise YOUR habit.
A strong habit is formed when there is a craving for the reward. With exercise, the craving will develop naturally due to the reward of exercise: the addictive endorphins it releases that make you feel capable, happy, and successful.
You don't need motivation or will power to stick to a new exercise routine nearly as much as you need the habit. Use the fun suggestions above to make exercise more enjoyable as you begin to form the habit.
3. ADJUST YOUR MINDSET
Abandon ALL-OR-NOTHING Thinking
Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. You will fall short. Failure is not the opposite of success; it is a part of it. So be prepared for it by learning from your mistakes and using them for inspiration.
Set yourself up for success by having realistic goals. If and when you do not perfectly adhere to your exercise routine, remember that it is not a failure until you give up!
Tell yourself you can do it. It’s proven to work. Your thoughts are already shaping your life, so it's time to take control of them to promote healthy behavior change and relieve depression. By changing our thoughts, we change our perceptions of the world, and perception is everything.
4. ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
If something comes up and you can't make it to your fitness class, or you can't meet with your running buddy, make sure you have a backup plan. Because life happens. But YOU are ultimately in control of your behavior.
Perhaps the best plan-b option is a rigorous home workout of challenging body-weight exercises. The Internet is overflowing with free no-equipment-needed workouts.
If you are lacking sleep or truly don't have the energy to work out, a simple walk is an ideal alternative to your normal workout. There is no excuse not to walk; it’s simple, stress-free, and requires no equipment or gear. A brisk walk of just twenty minutes can have a huge positive effect on your mood.
When you have a backup plan, you are no longer a victim to life's circumstances. You establish YOURSELF as the one in control.
5. NOURISH YOUR BODY
The importance of staying hydrated is really impossible to overstate. It is THE MOST IMPORTANT of all the nutrients.
If you don't drink lots of water from morning through evening, you're probably dehydrated. Yes, even if you're not thirsty.
Dehydration makes you feel tired, sluggish, and irritable. It can cause headaches, overeating, and muscle cramps. Do not put yourself at such a disadvantage with a problem that can be fixed so easily. It is so important to DRINK UP! The colder, the better too!
Depression can take away your appetite or make you overeat to numb the pain. A proper diet has incredible transformative powers for mental and physical wellbeing. It is imperative to add these inexpensive foods to your daily meals.
- Dark Leafy Greens (spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, and Swiss chard)
- Black Beans and Kidney Beans
- Seeds (sunflower seeds, chia seeds, or ground flaxseeds)
- Cold-Water Fatty Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna)
To learn WHY these foods are so crucial and how to eat to beat depression, check out this article here.
6. GET OVER SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS
Who Cares What Other People Think?
Anxiety was a HUGE hurdle for me when I was getting back into exercise for severe depression. I wasn't in good shape, and because my self-esteem was so low, I projected my own feelings onto others.
I thought everyone at the gym was looking at me and thinking, She's so out of shape! She can barely do that workout! Complete nonsense. Those were my own thoughts, not anything my fellow gym-goers were thinking about me.
Anxiety and low self-esteem can be paralyzing. I'm sad to say that these bogus thoughts kept me away from the gym for months. I just had to stop giving a f*ck what anyone at the gym thought about me.
No one whose opinion matters is judging you at the gym. If someone IS judging you, they are a judgmental asshole and you should give their opinions as much weight as they deserve: none.
Tell yourself that everyone in the gym or everyone you pass in the park is cheering you on. Perception is reality! Or just ignore everyone and cheer yourself on.
STOP COMPARING Yourself to Others
It can be so helpful to use others as inspiration, but never compare yourself to an other person. You don't know what their journey has been. But it's definitely not yours. YOU are the only one on your journey.
7. ALWAYS USE PROPER FORM
This is a simple one, but it couldn't be more important. It doesn't matter what kind of exercise you're doing. From Pilates to rec softball to CrossFit, before performing any exercise, make sure you're using perfect form and alignment.
The best thing to do is get a trainer—like me!—to coach you on how to properly perform movements (push ups, pull downs, squats, lunges, and deadlifts). Performing movements incorrectly will strengthen improper movement patterns, and are the #1 cause of injury.
Nothing can derail your new exercise plan like an injury! And that's exactly what happens when you're not using proper form.
8. GET THE RIGHT KIND OF MOTIVATED
Motivation for Lasting Change
We all pull motivation from different places. But data shows that behavior change is most likely to last when motivation comes from your own desire to better yourself for yourself.
Extrinsic (or external) motivation comes from factors outside of yourself. Though these can jump start a new exercise routine, they do not support lasting change because 1) they depend on the values of others, and 2) you have no control over them.
Intrinsic (or internal) motivation drives you from within, and YOU ARE IN CONTROL of the variables. Internal motivating factors such as strength, confidence, pride, self-esteem, the endorphin high, and beating depression will carry you through tough times and drive lasting change.
Learn more about the secret to exercise motivation here.
For motivation to get your blood pumping right now, check out fitness motivation pages on Pinterest (make sure to go for ones that focus on empowerment and strength rather than appearance!), and motivational speeches on YouTube.
9. FIND A SUPPORT SYSTEM
Studies show that those who have social support achieve and maintain their goals better than those without. Family and friends are the best kind of social support for lifestyle change, so take the time to explain to them how important exercise is to you. If they care about you, your health and fitness should be important to them too.
Sometimes our families and friends don’t support us in our fitness goals. Don’t let that hinder you!
Social media is a great tool for support and accountability. There are many encouraging spaces and communities online. Find others on the same mission as you. Do not let your unsupportive family or friends drag you down.
10. DON'T. GIVE. UP!
Never, ever give up. There will be days when you want to give up. There will be times when you doubt, times when you will feel too depressed or tired or lazy. Keep. Going. Exercise IS challenging, especially with depression. When you fight for yourself and your happiness with an exercise routine, you build emotional strength confidence, and resolve.
Don’t give up or be discouraged if you’re not very good at your exercise routine. Remember that it takes time to get good at anything. You will improve over time, and the more you improve the more you will enjoy it.
Don’t give up or be discouraged if your routine doesn’t ease your depression right away. While a single workout will produce endorphins and dopamine that make you feel high, it will take a few weeks of consistency for general depression treatment. Antidepressant medications take four to six weeks to produce results, so make sure to give exercise a few weeks before judging its effect on relief of your depression.
Don’t give up or be discouraged if you feel like you’re not making the progress you should. Sometimes it feels like the results we experience are not commensurate with the work we’ve put in. We are just too close to the transformation process to see the growth. Be patient. Time is going to pass anyway. You might as well be keep going and see where persistence takes you.
You will encounter these struggles—if you stick with it long enough. But THAT is where the POWER is. One of the many things that makes exercise so empowering is that it is HARD. It requires determination, persistence, and dedication.
It is so easy to give up. Refuse to let yourself down like that. When you push yourself to accomplish something that requires courage and dedication, you build strength of character.
When you are consistent; when you push past your struggles, your frustrations, your setbacks, it affects every part of your life and your being. It proves to your soul, “I can overcome. I can endure. I have what it takes to accomplish anything.”
If you fail, keep going. If one thing doesn't work, add another. Never give up. Never stop trying. Never stop searching.