Ok, you’re feeling down. You’ve spoken to a friend, seen your doctor, and you’ve outlined a plan. That’s all great stuff and you should be really proud of yourself for getting this far. Your blueprint for recovery, (however sketchy), probably includes some plans to get more sleep, stop watching your Iphone in bed, and eat a bit better. Still feel like there’s something missing? That’s because there is: it’s exercise. Before we go any further it’s important to clear up a couple of misconceptions, after all this is exercise 101:
- Exercise only has physical benefits. Today, Medical Science has thoroughly documented the mental as well as the physical benefits of exercise. The old ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ adage is now supported by a wealth of scientific evidence. Exercise promotes the release of all the good brain chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, etc.), and is great for supporting long-term cognitive ability. The ‘runner’s high’ is not a euphemism for indulgent marathon participants, it’s a real physiological side-effect of extended periods of cardiovascular exercise. Basically, exercise, and particularly cardiovascular exercise, makes you feel good. This is particularly useful if you’re feeling down.
- Exercise is only beneficial if it’s intense. This really couldn’t be further from the truth. Exercise, like depression, comes in many guises. A stroll around the block is exercise, as is a 15 mile run. It’s important that you tailor exercise to your age, current levels of fitness, and general health and well being. If you don’t exercise regularly it probably isn’t a good idea to structure your recovery around training for a marathon. The main thing is to get moving and turn this behavioural change into a positive habit. It’s also important to remember that over-exercising is recognised as a form of self-harm. You must exercise, but you mustn’t exercise excessively. Physical activity should make you feel tired, calm, and sweaty, but it shouldn’t make you feel exhausted, ill, or down.
- Exercise is an expensive hobby. This is simply untrue. In our topsy-turvy modern world you could expend an infinite amount of money of gear, gadgets, memberships, and supplements. None of these things are essential to exercising regularly or successfully. You might consider a membership at a gym (local council run gyms offer reasonable deals, and are a sensible alternative to pricey, poseur-focused muscle emporiums), but only if you think you can afford it and will use it regularly. Forget magic powders and fat burning capsules, just get a move on.
Misnomers addressed, now onto the exercise! Oh wait, I’ve never exercised before… Don’t worry, everyone is a new to the world of exercise at some point. Just make sure you’ve got a pair of trainers and some comfy clothes to work out in (these don’t need to be high-spec, they just need to be functional and allow you to move freely).
Three basic exercise ideas
- The long(ish) walk. There’s an infinite amount of possibility with the long walk. You can simply set out from your front door with an idea of distance you’d like to cover or the time you’d like to walks for and go from there. This is best for when you’re feeling really down. If it’s a heroic effort just to leave you’re flat or house then you should count a successful walk around your immediate area as a real success. If you’re feeling like you could go a little further afield then why not Google ‘nice walks near X, Y, or Z’. This sounds super simple, but Google holds a wealth of good ideas when it comes to nice places to walk. Getting out into the countryside, (or in London one of the bigger parks), is a great way to clear your head and look at a more open skyline (good for the soul). S the pace according to your level of fitness and how you feel on the day. A sedentary pace is great for loosening yourself up and focusing on your breathing, and a brisker pace is great for promoting the positive benefits of cardiovascular exercise.
- Home Yoga. Somehow, through a series of increasingly baffling developments, the ancient Indian art of Yoga has become the sole preserve of affluent North Londoners. However, fear not. You absolutely should not be paying £40 per hour for something that you can do at home, for free. Visit You Tube and type in ‘home yoga’. You’ll find loads of videos of experts guiding you through yoga routines. Start with something for beginners, and progress slowly towards an expert-looking downward dog. You could watch the video on your phone, or hook your laptop up to your television for a more immersive experience. Why not try putting some soothing music in the background? Home Yoga is something that you can do completely for free. It’s got lots of positive mental relaxation effects, and is great for keeping you supple (particularly if you have spent the past few days lying in bed and feeling down).
- Park Workout. This one requires a bit of caveat. Practical Depression fully acknowledges that its British readers rarely enjoy the luxury of sunshine, however, do not let this deter you! Rain or shine the British park, beyond its role as national institution, is a great place to do some exercise. Parks usually have well maintained, traffic free tarmac paths and so make a great place for a jog. If you’re in a larger park you could pick a route through it and run from one end to the other. If the park is a little smaller then try to find a good place to do some laps. A big duck pond or flower beds are a good shout for doing this. However, don’t think that the park workout is limited to the trusty jog. Lots of parks now have outdoor exercise equipment, often including pull-up bars, leg presses, and cross-training stations. This stuff is great for a free, quick, no-nonsense fitness session. These exercise zones are also great places to buddy up with a friend, or get chatting to other like minded exercise bods. Approach the equipment sensibly if your a beginner, and work your way up from there. You could start out by trying to do 5 reps/30 seconds on each machine.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Do take it easy when you are first starting to exercise. This is a tortoise, and not hare, kind of game.
- Do find cheap, sustainable ways to exercise.
- Do mix up your work outs, and try out different ways to exercise. Variety is the spice of life.
- Don’t blow a load of cash on a gym membership or Usain Bolt-worthy trainers.
- Don’t do one, single 100m sprint and be knackered for the rest of the week.
- Don’t always exercise alone. If you’re headed for a walk, or to the park, take a friend along with you.