Increasing exercise

Exercise addresses several of the factors causing depression, including the brain’s mood chemicals. Even very moderate exercise can make a big difference to your mood. Increasing enjoyable exercise is one of the most effective strategies for tackling depression.

Reversing the depression habit spiral

Exercise raises the levels of endorphins (a mood chemical) in your brain, giving feelings of pleasure and raising mood. It also contributes to a sense of achievement.


Exercise therefore helps to address the depression habit spiral at the biological and the psychological level. If you exercise with friends or meet new people that way, then it can also help at the social level.

Exercise should be enjoyable; it should not be undertaken in a punishing or over-exerting way. Respect your body by warming up and down well and being gentle with yourself.

What exercise did you use to enjoy? What could you do with the support and company of others? Why not try something new, or build exercise into your daily routine by walking instead of catching the bus?

Good depression-busting exercise ideas

Walking
Easy and cheap, can be fitted in to daily routines. Especially good when done in pleasant outdoor surroundings, but even 5 minutes around the block can make a difference. Can be enjoyable to share with someone else. Some people find it motivating to carry a pedometer to monitor how many steps they take each day and set themselves targets.

Yoga or pilates
Gentle, non-competitive exercise. Teaches breathing and relaxation techniques, useful for managing stress or anger levels, sorting out sleep patterns and generally raising mood levels. Often offered at university sports centres.

Swimming
Can include vigorous or gentler, more relaxing elements. Immersion in water can be very soothing. Choose a time when the pool isn’t too busy, so that you can go at your own pace and benefit from the relaxation effects as well as the exercise.

Team sports
Any team sport, especially if undertaken for fun and socialising purposes. Check at your students union for clubs.

Martial arts
Gentler martial arts which focus on internal control, breathing and mental discipline can be especially useful for combating depressed thinking and improving relaxation skills.

‘Green gym’
The green gym concept is about exercising in a constructive way by participating in organised outdoor, ‘green’ projects such as tree planting or dry stone walling. See ‘More resources’ for info or see if your student union offers suitable volunteering opportunities.

Living well

Exercise has been shown to be as effective as medication in treating depression – it is a very powerful habit to develop, and a key ingredient in the recipe for a happy and healthy life. If you find a way to make exercise part of what you do for fun, rather than as a chore, then you will be well on the way to making it a lifelong habit.

You could even add to this powerful effect if you also build in a greater sense of purpose to your exercise habit – for example, by training for a fun run or a trekking challenge in order to raise money to support a charity you care about. See the Support Us page for more about how others have supported Students Against Depression in this way.

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The depression habit spiral
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