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Four reasons to exercise when you have depression

Shortly before my depression snapped me in half, I went to a spin class at the gym. Of all the exercise I have done – and I have done a lot – spin is the most intense aerobic workouts.shutterstock_275943533

An hour of riding a stationary bike -mostly at your maximum heart rate – and my body is toast. However, my brain is on a pink cloud – awash in endorphins.

But on that day, the endorphins did not come. I rode and rode and rode until foamed formed in the corners of my mouth – but there were no endorphins. And then I snapped in half.

As the weight slipped off my bones, I dragged myself to the gym. I spoke to no one. As a recovered alcoholic – unable to take a drink or a hit off a joint – I knew I needed to give my brain all the help I could. I took my antidepressants with the understanding that it would take weeks before they might work – if at all.

The only instant relief would be the endorphins, if I could find a way to re-ignite them.

I can’t say there was an ah-ha moment when the endorphins kicked in. It could have been the antidepressants that brought me out of my black hole. Or maybe a combination of the medications and endorphins. Who knows. But I got better.

I take my antidepressants and workout out 4-5 times a week. In the years since my last major depression, I have come to realize that exercise gives me much more than a flush of endorphins. I get a powerful psychological boost from working out. I have come to believe that the psychological benefits from exercise are as important as the physiological ones from my antidepressants.

Here they are:

  1. Self-esteem: I am proud of myself after I workout. I have no self-esteem when I am in my black hole. Down there, I am a worthless piece of crap. My brain tells me that. Exercise stops that evil chatter. I am not worthless.
  2. Accomplishment: If I accomplish nothing else today, at least I have worked out. With every workout you accomplish something. When I am depressed, I beat myself up for not being able to accomplish anything – ergo, I’m a piece of crap.
  3. Confidence: With accomplishment comes confidence. Depression strips your confidence. Self-doubt builds and destroys any thought that you can help yourself. Hope is lost.
  4. I look better: You cannot help but gain muscle when you workout. Muscle makes you stronger – both physically and emotionally. If you want to lose weight, you will do that, too. The sweat will clean out your pores. When I am depressed I tell myself I look like a piece of crap. I may look like crap when I walk out of the gym, but two hours later I feel beautiful.

Some illnesses can be cured with medication alone. Not my depression. I need – and use – every tool I can find.

Woman with weights available from Shutterstock.


Four reasons to exercise when you have depression

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2015). Four reasons to exercise when you have depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Oct 2015
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