Fighting depression with exercise

Do you really have to exercise? Of course not.

I’m pretty sure that, if I didn’t exercise, I would go crazy. When you’re working out hard, you simply don’t have the capacity to churn stuff over in your head.  Yes, I do a lot of exercise already but I’d love to do more. Why?  Because it not only cuts out the mental crap but it makes me feel good, really good. I love the way muscles appear out of fat; and I love the sheer endorphin high I get when I’m in the ‘zone’.  I can be feeling as miserable as sin, as low as low can go and getting up and going out to exercise can feel like the last thing I want to do. But it’s much easier just to slump on the sofa, right? Or stick your paw in the cookie jar to blunt your feelings. So really, I push myself out there because I know damn well that exercise will sort me out – for a little while at least.

There’s a good reason why.  We weren’t meant to be couch potatoes.  We weren’t designed to sit for ten hours a day behind a computer screen and then slump for the evening in front of a
television.   Our bodies were designed to move, to work, to be fit and active.  In the past most of us would have relied on the earth for our livelihood and our daily bread – days would have been spent in the open, working physically very hard.   Nowadays our daily bread tends to come from the supermarket (and is full of crap but let’s not go there for the moment) and so we need to find other, more artificial ways, to keep active and fit.
Do you really have to exercise? Of course not.  You don’t have to do anything. But if you want to live longer and in better health, it’s not a bad idea to give it a whirl. Exercising regularly allegedly reduces your risk of early death by a pretty impressive seventy per cent.   It keeps your lungs and heart working at optimum levels and prevents the dangers of heart disease.  Stress levels drop when you exercise and your mood naturally elevates.  Regular exercise can even help you sleep and perk up your sex life.
On a more prosaic note it can control your blood pressure and boost your immune system. Some physiologists even reckon it can increase your creativity.  On the other hand, if you don’t exercise you will be putting yourself in danger of heart and artery disease; your muscles and bones could develop problems; you could find yourself prone to gastrointestinal problems and you will be more likely to suffer nervous or emotional upsets and illnesses.
But – and it’s a big but – it has to be enjoyable.  Enjoyable exercise sound like an oxymoron?  Nah. It doesn’t have to be. The good news is that you don’t have to live down the gym or run for hours every day. But it’s worth doing some form of exercise regularly. The main problem is that people take up forms of exercise they don’t enjoy, they aren’t naturally good at or that they feel they should do and so they get bored, disillusioned and give up.  The key to making exercise work for you is to find something you actually enjoy – not what you feel you should do but what you would really like to do.
So you don’t have to race out and buy on-line skates when you have absolutely no sense of balance and are terrified of speed.  And you don’t have to do Zumba because all your friends do or play squash because your husband wants some practice.  People fork out a small fortune on gym memberships only to find they hate pumping iron and they loathe spinning.  Before you join a club test it out for a while – any club worth its salt will offer trial memberships
for a month or so.
Throughout my book The Natural Year I give ideas on how to incorporate exercise into your life and suggestions on different things to try.  But for now, just try something…anything.
Take a look at your local sports centre – where I used to live the local one offered  everything from trampolining to five-a-side football, from ballroom dancing to table tennis (and it was only a small rural centre).
Think about the sports you enjoyed in school – are there any you’d like to take up again?  Netball can be good fun, or volleyball or softball – if you like team games.  Or get back into badminton or squash or tennis.  Many adults take up gymnastics or ballet again and love it without the peer pressure of youth – or learn something new like (ye gods) golf.   The key issue is fun.  You don’t have to be brilliant or the best – you just need to do it and enjoy it.  A friend of mine has taken up belly-dancing and adores it.  She reckons she’s the worst belly-dancer ever but doesn’t give a toss. And if one thing doesn’t work out, try something else. Sometimes you have to ferret around a bit to find what works for you. You might have the right sport but the wrong class, the wrong teacher – it’s a real case of horses for courses. Just don’t give up, okay?
Physically unable to exercise? Try qigong (chi kung) – you can even do it sitting in a chair – and it still gives great results.  Broke?  Walking, running, wild swimming don’t cost a penny.
In order to keep exercising you have to keep your motivation high.
  • Be realistic about your size shape and body shape.  Hordes of exercisers lose heart because however hard they work they don’t end up looking like supermodels.  Dump unrealistic role
    models ‑ these people spend hours, and a small fortune in personal trainer bills, to look that way.  Plus your body type might be against you (I discuss this more in the book and will try to put up a blog post on it soon).
  • Start slowly.  You shouldn’t try to change your exercise habits overnight or you will become demotivated because you don’t see changes happening immediately.  Make gradual changes to your lifestyle and they will become a permanent way of life without any special effort.
  • Break through the one week barrier.  Yup, just one week. Sports psychologists promise that if you can get past the first week, you’ve passed the period in which half the drop-outs occur. Needless to say, this means exercising more than once a week. If you manage to work out regularly for six months, you’re likely to have created a long-lasting habit.
  • Try to get a friend involved.  Exercising with someone else is the supreme motivator.  Sportsmen and women have coaches, most super‑fit actresses and models have their own personal trainers and if you’ve got the funds, a personal trainer will undoubtedly get you moving. However a good mate will often do as well. It is much easier to stick to a regular exercise schedule if you know that someone else is waiting for you in the park, the gym or the pool.
Adapted from my book The Natural Year – a seasonal guide to holistic health and beauty, in which I talk about my belief that we can all live more balanced lives if we work with the forces of nature, rather than pitting ourselves against them.  Now updated and available for Kindle at and 


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