Get Moving: Physical Motion and Depression

October 8, 2016   •  Posted in: 

Fat is a bad word.  Diet is a bad word. Exercise is a bad word.  That’s why we need to discuss “physical motion.”  The reality is that most people don’t exercise, but everybody moves.

Ben came to The Center • A Place of HOPE tired, burned out, and overweight.  His depressive state was producing negative effects in his marriage, and his wife finally had enough.  She insisted that if Ben didn’t want a divorce, he had to come in and work on their “issues.”  When he first arrived at The Center, the coercion was obvious on his face.  He was there because he was forced to be, and he didn’t hold out much hope for a successful conclusion.

Ben expected to be told how bad he was as a husband, how much of a failure his life was.  Instead, he learned his wife really loved him and how deeply concerned she was about his depression.  Instead of hostility, Ben received empathy and concern, from his wife and from his counselor.  This support gave him the courage he needed to make some changes in his marriage and in his life.

He was counseled to move more.  Ben’s weight problems were due to his sedentary lifestyle.  He sat at home.  He sat at work.  He sat in the car.  He sat and watched television, with a remote.  He sat and read the paper.  If he needed something at home, he asked his wife or kids to get it.  If he needed something at work, he snagged a subordinate.  The more he sat, the larger, and more unhappy and unhealthy, he became.

When their counselor first broached the subject of exercise, his wife had laughed and said Ben considered exercise a four-letter word.  She said he considered a workout to be a trip down to the mailbox and back.  While he didn’t especially appreciate her laughter, he had to admit she was right.  He just didn’t like to exercise.  Every time he tried to start something in the past, he failed.  What was the point?

“Then, don’t exercise,” the counselor suggested.  “Just move more.”  Moving more meant little things like not using the remote and actually getting up out of the chair to change the television channel.  It meant parking a little farther away from his building at work.  It meant using the stairs instead of the elevator.  It meant doing his own errands instead of expecting everyone around him to do them.  Moving more meant getting up after an extended period of time at his desk and walking around the plant.  Moving more really wasn’t difficult.  It got to where Ben really didn’t even think about it.  It wasn’t long before he was playing with the kids in the yard before dinner.

No matter what you call it, physical motion or exercise is vital to a healthy life.  It is also effective in relieving depression.  The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that walking thirty minutes each day alleviates symptoms of depression more quickly than many pharmaceutical antidepressants.[i]  A Duke University study found that those who exercised were four times more likely to remain depression-free six months after the start of treatment than those who took medication.[ii]

Like Ben, you may have difficulty imagining exercise as part of your life.  You may have visions of gigantic weightlifters or slender long-distance runners and conclude you were never meant to be an athlete.  What we are talking about here is not athletic competition.  Rather, it is starting from wherever you are and gradually adding more motion.  There is the saying, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  This is especially true for those who are just beginning to incorporate more physical activity into their day.  Keep in mind the following principles:

  • Start slow – give your body a chance to catch up to your mental decision to begin exercising.
  • Pick your motion – consider motion that is low-impact at the outset.
  • Maintain consistency – make physical motion a life choice and do it consistently.
  • Use your journal – write your thoughts and feelings about exercising in a journal and see what you discover.
  • Find a friend – ask someone to join you and you may find that you are going farther than you ever imagined.
  • Be prepared for aches – remember that sweat is one of the main ways the body detoxifies itself.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE is here to help.  Contact us today at 1-888-771-5166 and begin the healing process.

[i] F. Dimeo, M. Bauer, I. Varahram, G. Proest, and U. Halter, “Benefits from Aerobic Exercise in Patients with Major Depression: A Pilot Study,” British Journal of Sports Medicine 35 (Aprill 2001): 114-17,


Dr. Gregory Jantz

Pioneering Whole Person Care over thirty years ago, Dr. Gregory Jantz is an innovator in the treatment of mental health. He is a best-selling author of over 45 books, and a go-to media authority on behavioral health afflictions, appearing on CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, and CNN. Dr. Jantz leads a team of world-class, licensed, and...

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