Depressed? Here's How to Work Out Anyway

Exercise and depression

I don’t talk about it much publicly, but I’ve suffered from depression on and off pretty much my entire life.

When I was younger, I had no idea how to cope when times got bad. I had plenty of people around me who cared, but I just didn’t know how to take care of myself when the depression hit. It was only when I found fitness that I learned that physical movement was what I needed to take myself out of the cloud and back into the world.

I first met Amy a couple of years ago at WDS, a really cool conference focused on bringing entrepreneurs and other world changers together in my (almost) hometown, Portland, Oregon, and she is an absolute rockstar. Amy has just about the most contagious smile of anyone you’ll ever meet, and is the best group fitness instructor I’ve ever encountered (I, on the other hand, am the absolute worst). She’ll make you drip sweat and your muscles scream but all the while you’ll somehow still be smiling—she’s just that good.

So I’m really excited to have Amy guest posting here today about such an important but difficult subject, depression—and how even if you suffer from depression or anxiety, fitness can help change your life.

Take it away Amy…

When you’re depressed, everything feels like a HIIT workout, and when the simple act of talking to a stranger feels like doing nonstop burpee tuck jumps, you’re probably pretty overwhelmed most of the time. The last thing you want to do is add a workout on top of that stress. In fact, it might inspire panic in you just thinking about it.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, you’re far from alone. Before I became a fitness personality, I suffered from crippling depression and anxiety; there was a point when getting out of bed was my win for the day. When I decided to change my life, I tried everything from medication to therapy and nothing seemed to work… until I started going to the gym consistently.

It completely changed my life.

I was finally able to rebuild my body and mind from the inside out. Now, I’m more positive, I have TONS more energy (maybe too much), and I’m a freaking badass in the gym… maybe not quite as badass as Krista, but hey, a girl’s gotta dream.

I’m not the only one who’s experienced this transformation. Studies over the last few years have shown massive benefits from exercise specifically for people who struggle with depression. Here are just a few of them…

  • Makes serotonin more available for your brain by binding to receptor sites like SSRI’s do. [source]
  • Boosts self-esteem and self-efficacy (basically, you prove to yourself that you can move physically, so your brain gets more confident that you can fight mentally) [source]
  • It helps distract our brains from negative thoughts. [source]
  • It doesn’t promote the same stigma as medication or therapy does, perhaps motivating people who struggle with depression to stay consistent. [source]
  • Exercise gives us a feeling of control when the rest of our lives may feel out of control [source]
  • Promotes brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) production, which prevents brain atrophy (a cause of more intense depression symptoms) [source]
  • Is as effective as antidepressants if not more so, and reduces chance of relapse by 78% over antidepressants alone [source]
  • Treatment-resistant major depressives may respond to exercise even if they do not respond to any other kind of treatment [source]

The kicker is that the benefits only come only if you’re consistent. You can’t just randomly do a workout some weeks and not others, and expect to feel better from it. If you want to beat down depression with your workout schedule, you’ll want to do at least the public health recommendation of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity (or for us HIIT-ers, 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity).

…which brings us back to the dilemma of feeling like you’re spent just from doing “normal people things,” like communicating with people, getting to work on time or making food for yourself. How the hell are you supposed to get motivated to sweat on top of all that?!

It’s not easy, I’ll give you that. It comes down to making the choice that you’re tired of living this way. It’s that simple/complicated.

Here’s my two cents: know that any kind of movement is a win in the beginning and just start. You don’t have to begin with the public health recommendation. Start slow with just one workout a week. After 2 weeks, try adding one more, then another after you’ve been doing it for a month. Find a workout program that understands your predicament and doesn’t push you too hard too fast. The beginner guides here are a great start.

If you want the added component of workouts designed specifically for depression or anxiety (there are special tracks for each), peer support and coaches that know exactly what you’re going through, check out my Strong Inside Out Bootcamp (use discount code 12minuteathlete for 20% off!). It’s the first 30-day online workout program for depression and anxiety that offers short, guided workout videos, Mindset Challenges to get you more mindful and positive, and a super-active support system with peers and coaches alike who are changing their lives just like you.

The way you feel now doesn’t have to be your forever. Decide that it needs to change, then commit to doing the work it takes to get there. You’re worth the work it takes.

Amy CloverAmy Clover is a fitness personality, trainer and founder of Strong Inside Out, a site that helps people become stronger than their struggle through fitness and positive action.

Check out her site to get a free, guided, 10-minute workout to lift your spirit and your butt: click here!

Sign up for Krista's Movement + Mindset Mastery newsletter to get your FREE eBook, 5 Keys to Building Mental and Physical Fitness. You'll also receive weekly physical and mental fitness-related content to help get you fired up for the week ahead.

21 thoughts on “Depressed? Here's How to Work Out Anyway”

  1. Thank you both for sharing this information! Couldn’t have come at a better time! Everything mention makes so much sense; working out is a drug I crave! Makes you feel SO alive! Post workout; having the endorphin rush makes it all worth it!

    Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis earlier this year totally changed my life! Initially being paralyzed on one side, along with being hospitalized for a month was almost too much for me to deal with!

    The entire time in hospital I was so worried that I’d never be able to exercise again! Luckily for me having always being a active person, it was only a matter of time before I resumed exercising! Which I’m currently doing!

    Thank you Krista & Amy

    Things aren’t the same; having to walk with a limp, having weaker left side. Not wanting to let MS keep me down, I know fitness will prevent my condition from worsening!

    MS and depression go hand in hand; rightfully so! I know I’ll never get back to where I once was with fitness, but I’ll be darn if I’m going to throw in the towel!

    Knowing I’m not alone, along with reading stories like you provided helps!

    Thank you

    • Darren,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I recently had a friend diagnosed with MS as well, a guy who is otherwise super healthy and active and it came as a complete shock to his friends and family. Staying positive and keeping as active as possible WILL help, and hopefully you have people who can support you and help keep you in a positive mindset when you’re feeling down. My thoughts go out to you.

  2. Thank for the post. I need it. I just can’t seem to stay consistent. I’ve taken a week off but will try to do something today.

    • I really needed this today because I was in crazy training mode going on months with maybe a day or so a week of rest and stretching. Anyhow long story short I was hit as a pedestrian by a car one week ago today. The person who hit me was stopped at a red light was in the right hand turning lane and hit me from a dead stop. She did not look right to see me walking in the crosswalk but I saw her and thank god I had the foresight and training to deal with this. I jumped and rolled onto her hood bruising my shoulder, shin, hip and knee pretty badly. Luckily I suffered no breaks lacerations or tears just mild sprains and deep bruises. Next came the recovery of RICE which most people know, and some pain pills too. It being summer and im naturally more active it killed me to stay in all day and night and rest. My routine was shot but day after day I got better and finally weaned myself off the drugs. I went back to the gym today and had a good workout, I do not take this or my life for granted every day truly is a blessing and I hope everybody finds hope when it seems so fleeting

  3. I remember when you were ‘one to watch’ after your first WDS and just starting out online.. but I could tell that you would blow up and you did. You’re such a badass! You and Krista both!! I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that I might have some mild anxiety… enough to procrastinate on a lot of things to the point of it becoming a little debilitating. Case in point, I think it’s held me back a lot these past few years of being an entrepreneur or wantapreneur. 😛 I definitely know I could improve my workout game to help combat this, but have also been dancing more lately and that seems to be helping too.. but amping up daily is something I still need to work on.

    • Dancing DEFINITELY counts as exercise Janet! Plus, you can’t help but be happy when dancing 🙂 a LOT of people suffer from anxiety (myself included), but the key is to acknowledge it and find ways to deal with it. You’re awesome, don’t let it get you down!

      PS. Both Amy and I will be at WDS this year, make sure to say hi! 🙂

    • Hey Janet!

      Aw, thanks for remembering me. 🙂 Anxiety can indeed be debilitating, but procrastination can make your anxiety worse, so I’d urge you to breathe through it and take one step at a time to move forward. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. 🙂 Stay strong!

  4. Hi. I love your app – it’s so convenient on the go. My question is, I do weight lifting and cardio workouts in the afternoons, but before I go to work, I like to do a quick 12m HIIT routine to get the metabolism going. How many times a week is recommended? I don’t want to hurt my body since they are a bit strenuous. Thanks for the feedback!

    I really love all these articles too. I’m still a newbie to the 12m HIIT but loving this site.


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