I used to be slim, fit and active but two years ago I developed depression, began comfort-eating and put on a lot of weight. I’ve read that regular exercise is as effective as medication for depression. I’d like to get a regular routine going but need advice on how to start and stay motivated.
You are right: exercise can be a highly effective treatment for less severe depression. The NHS recommends it as an alternative to “talking therapies”, such as CBT counselling, and says both treatments are preferable in the first instance to anti-depressants. However, two years is a long time to have lived with depression, and your comfort-eating weight gain complicates matters. It’s worth asking your GP for some CBT sessions, alongside any exercise régime you decide on, because a combined approach may be your best way of ensuring good results.
As to the best kind of exercise, it seems to matter less what you do than the fact that you enjoy it enough to keep it up regularly. As you say, motivation is the key, so here’s a few pointers.
- Set a routine and stick to it, come what may. Aim for three sessions a week (eg, every other day), lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Fix time slots that work for you and do not deviate.
- Decide on which activities to do, based on what you used to enjoy. Remember to start gently and build up so your body can adapt – don’t expect to swim 30 lengths, shimmy through a salsa class or play a fast netball game in your first week of returning to exercise
- Set some goals. The first might be simply to achieve three sessions a week for the next month. Then set another goal – perhaps to be able to jog a certain distance in three months’ time, or have moved up to the intermediate level step class…
- Tackle your comfort eating, and take care not to increase your food “allowance” now that you are exercising. Add a realistic weight loss target to your goals (0.5kg to 1kg a week).
- Join a music-based class – spinning (fun, fast cycling at the gym), aquafit, body-pump or similar. The music and the other people will lift your mood.
- Do some exercise outdoors – jogging, cycling or fitness walking in the park. Exercising outdoors is another mood-booster, even on chilly winter mornings. Take a friend or dog for company.