Oftentimes, a decision to start exercising is made in desperation and disgust. Desperation says, “Start now and start hard.” Disgust says, “You deserve to feel bad.” These twin voices come from frustration, and they doom our exercise attempts to fail. Why? Because, physically unprepared to begin at such a fast pace, our bodies and our spirits break down. We hurt. We ache. We quit.
When we are overcome by the twin voices of desperation and despair, we often choose the most inappropriate form of exercise to start with. Maybe it’s taking up a sport from high school, only that was ten or twenty years ago. Maybe it’s running instead of walking. Or singles instead of doubles. Or one-on-one basketball instead of bowling. There is nothing wrong with running or singles tennis or basketball, but the timing isn’t right. These are sports that require a certain level of fitness to be successful, or even safe. They are certainly something to aspire to, but if you haven’t moved much for several years, you need to start out slow.
For many people, their first choice for increased physical motion is walking. Not speed walking or power walking, but simply getting out into the world and having a look around. Others will begin with low-impact aerobics or swimming. Others may modify a favorite activity, such as golf, and choose to walk part of the way instead of riding in the cart.
As you look for ways you can improve your health and your recovery from depression, pick out activities that you can enjoy. And for those of you who mutter that nothing involving exercise can be enjoyable, look for ways to find partial enjoyment. Do whatever it takes to get you moving.
Physical motion needs to become a life choice. It’s not about the next few weeks or the next few months. It’s about establishing a routine, a ritual, if you will, of being good to yourself through movement. In order to experience the maximum benefits, keep at it.
Consistency is not measured simply as an everyday event. Rather, you want to establish a new pattern. Start out by incorporating some sort of special movement, or exercise, every other day. If something such as an illness or injury prevents you from exercising for a while, don’t listen to desperation and disgust. Cut yourself some slack, and start again when you are able—but be honest about when that is.
As you are integrating movement into your life, write down your thoughts and feelings in your journal. Allow yourself to explore how you are feeling before, during, and after you exercise. Note anything remarkable you discover. Oftentimes, physical movement can free up the mind to explore new avenues. It’s as if while you are physically moving, you’re giving the mind permission to wander. Because you want this physical movement to assist in your recovery from depression, let your mind wander, but keep the boundaries of your thoughts well within the borders of positive, uplifting ones. Reinforce those thoughts by them in your journal.
If you find it a challenge to motivate yourself to exercise, ask someone to join you. It should be someone you feel comfortable with and who is at the same level, or slightly ahead, of you physically. If you don’t feel like going out one day, perhaps you will find the motivation because of the other person. Personal interaction, as well as physical movement, is of tremendous value. You may soon find that you are going farther and doing more than you ever imagined because you are concentrating more on the other person than on the exercise.
It is only appropriate that after talking about physical movement we should talk about drinking enough water. A good rule of thumb is this: Half your body weight is the number of ounces of water you should be drinking every day. For example, a man weighting 176 pounds should be drinking 88 ounces, or 11 cups, of water each day.
Finally, be prepared for aches. While it is important to start off slow, you want to be able to work into an exercise routine that will produce a light sweat. Sweat is one of the main ways the body detoxifies itself. As you push yourself, however, you will be working muscles, joints, and tendons that haven’t been stretched in a while. As a result, you should experience minor aches and pains. These are normal and natural and are a sign you are working unused areas. Most aches should subside after a few days.
While aches are to be tolerated, be aware of any pain. Pain is the body’s signal that something is wrong. If you experience recurring pain doing one type of exercise, do something different. If walking or running is painful to your knees or hips, try swimming instead. Be aware of what your body is telling you, and acknowledge aches but listen to pain.
If it has been a while since you’ve engaged in physical activity, consider going to your primary-care physician and obtaining a physical examination. Ask his or her guidance in the type, duration, and frequency of an exercise plan.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 30 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.