Finding the Right Exercise for Depression

November 20, 2015 Liz Smith

We all know that exercise can help combat depression, but did you know that finding the right exercise for depression is also important? The type of exercise you choose for depression has an effect on how beneficial it may be for your mental health, so it’s important to carefully choose the right exercise for depression.

The Right Exercise for Depression Shouldn’t Be Stressful

If you’re thinking about taking up a new exercise regime to help with your depression, whatever you do shouldn’t cause you added stress. An example of this is an experience I had at a yoga class when I decided to try yoga for depression and overall mental health. The class was Astanga yoga, which can be quite a strenuous form of yoga if you’re not used to it. I struggled with some of the poses, because I have very inflexible hip joints and an ongoing niggling shoulder problem from a fall off my bike. The teacher was fairly unsympathetic and told me I just wasn’t trying hard enough, even after I had tried to explain to her that joint problems meant I was unable to achieve the pose, which made me quite upset (What NOT To Say To Someone With A Mental Illness).

It's important to exercise when you have depression but finding the right exercise for depression also matters. Read this to find out why.It might seem silly to get upset over being unable to achieve the perfect downward dog, but I felt singled out and it took me back to unwelcome memories of physical education classes at school where I’d often had comments from teachers about my inflexibility and awkwardness (which was due to dyspraxia, a developmental coordination disorder). At the time, my mental health wasn’t good and I was fragile. I went away from that class feeling anything but energized and full of endorphins – I felt dejected and it was another year before I tried yoga again. Now I do Hatha yoga, which is gentler, and the teacher (an ex-physiotherapist) is much more aware of people’s different body types, needs and restrictions and works around injuries. I also recently tried aerial yoga, which I absolutely loved.

Do Your Research to Find the Right Exercise for Your Depression

I guess what I learned from my bad yoga experience was to research before you try a new type of exercise for depression and not necessarily jump into it. Ask questions first about the class, the environment and whether the instructor can accommodate any particular needs you have like injuries or disability. Maybe visit the venue and ensure you feel comfortable there. If they aren’t willing to answer questions and just want your money, maybe it’s not the right gym or class for someone with depression.

Whatever you do, don’t sign up for long contracts before you’ve had a trial class at least. Finding out you hate your new gym/trainer/class when you’ve just signed up for a whole year is not going to help your mental health or your purse. I now stick to classes that allow you to pay as you go or pay in blocks of a few classes at a time, so I can be flexible about when I go and what I do. Then, if I have a work commitment or if I’m not well I don’t feel guilty or annoyed about losing money. Neither of those things are helpful for depression.

Listen to Your Body When Choosing Exercise for Depression

Everyone should do this, of course, but if you have depression or mental health issues I think it’s even more important to be in tune with your body and listen to what it needs. Be prepared to vary your exercise routine sometimes if your body is saying it’s tired, if you have niggles or pains or if you’ve been unwell, because these things can turn exercise into something that depletes rather than boosts your energy and improves your mood. If you don’t want to miss out on doing exercise altogether that day, maybe try swapping your usual high-energy class for something gentler, or going for a walk rather than a run, for example. Don’t forget, too, that sometimes your body calls for sleep, particularly when stressed, so don’t push yourself too hard in the gym if an early night might actually be what’s called for.

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Image Attribution: Jasmine Kaloudis, used under Creative Commons License

APA Reference
Smith, L. (2015, November 20). Finding the Right Exercise for Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Liz Smith

June, 23 2016 at 12:20 pm

I saught counseling for the abuse and it triggered an altercation of a prior rape that occurred. I fought in court and I am appealing my case. I just feel like depressed moods sometimes set me up for abuse. It's like a spiral or continuous circle. As soon as I get over one obstacle hear comes another and my diminished stre

June, 23 2016 at 12:16 pm

This is so true exercise induce endorphins and cause me to feel a euphoria like nothing else. I recently got restricted from attending the gym after being assaulted and harrassed by police. I am very down and have no desire to think of join another gym. My self esteem plummeted to an all time low and I saught c oocounseling

December, 7 2015 at 11:24 pm

My heel spur/plantar fasciitis in my left foot makes me feel anxious because I NEED exercise to make me feel better mentally and emotionally....I have been following the RICE method and it's getting better. I hope today after doing the elliptical machine the pain and stiffness will be a lot less severe than last week.

David Hamill
November, 24 2015 at 1:03 pm

Nice post Liz.
Starting slow and gentle is always a good idea, whichever exercise you choose. For a lot of people, something as gentle as walking can make a difference in the beginning. Walking outdoors in nature is even more beneficial, and if you're lucky enough to live near natural running water of some kind, its even better again.
Namasté :)

November, 23 2015 at 5:17 am

When I am feeling blue best exercise is swimming, it clears my mind, less strained, and enjoy thinking under water to clear my mind and keep facing life's challenges.

November, 20 2015 at 2:59 pm

For me, it is jogging. But whatever the exercise. A beginner should always start slow and take a few months to get in shape before going over 30 minutes on any form of exercise. I might walk and swim on days I don't jog.

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