A little over a year ago, I was in a tough spot.
My depression had been worse than usual due to a few frustrating circumstances. And finally, I hit a breaking point one Sunday after church.
I came home and could tell before I walked through the door that I was in “shut-down” mode. I had no energy to do anything — except to numb myself by watching TV.
I suddenly realized this lack of energy and motivation had been normal to me for months. This ongoing feeling of grayness and wanting to shut out the world was happening every day.
So I decided to do something drastic: Walk every day, first thing in the morning.
The next day I work up about 30 minutes earlier than usual and did what I call “my old lady speedwalk.”
I kept that up for the next year. And here’s what I learned.
(*Full transparency, I did miss a few days due to rain or a vacation, but I still exercised on those days using workout videos. Also on the weekends, my walks were not right away in the morning, but typically occurred in the afternoon.)
1. Walking strongly decreased my depression.
The big reason I chose walking for exercise was because I had been reading this book called “Spark.” It talked about how drastically exercise, and particularly cardio exercise, was an effective way to reduce depression.
For example, a few facts in the book were:
- Every 50 minutes of weekly exercise correlates with a 50% drop in risk of depression.
- In Britain, doctors now use exercise as a first-line treatment for depression.
- Three neurotransmitters play an important role in managing our moods, attention, perception, motivation, and movement. They are serotonin (mood), norepinephrine (focus), and dopamine (reward-system, movement). Exercise boosts all three without any negative side effects.
So since I was already at the point of considering medication, I thought that it might be helpful to fight try exercise to see if I could treat my depression that way.
I was already exercising regularly, but I tended to focus more on strength training than cardio. Plus, I wasn’t exercising right away in the morning, and I knew I needed the extra boost in particular in the morning to help me face the day.
After about a year of doing this every day, I can truly say that my depression has decreased.
While I still struggle with motivation and gray days, it typically doesn’t overpower me like it used to. And even when I am depressed, it doesn’t seem as difficult to try. I firmly believe my daily exercise is the reason for that.
2. Even after a full year, I still never wanted to wake up and go for a walk.
I still never woke up wanting to get out of bed and exercise. Even after months of doing it and seeing results.
Honestly, it was the grace of God alone that got me out of bed many days.
However, it also helped that I had told my husband about this plan, so he was able to keep me accountable. And eventually, he actually started waking up at the same time as me — which was a huge help, even though we weren’t exercising together.
I do think one of the most difficult things about depression is that even when you KNOW what will make you feel better, you struggle to make the choice to DO the healthy thing.
That’s been true for me in regards to this daily exercise, and it’s been true for me in SO MANY OTHER AREAS.
So basically, I rarely wait for the motivation to exercise — or do anything, really. Because I’ve learned in my case, that motivation will probably not come, or it will be VERY infrequent.
Strangely enough, that helps.
3. Pushing yourself does wonders.
Like most people who struggle with depression, I go through phases. Some days are easier for me than others. Often I’ll have a week or two of feeling great followed by a week of feeling not-so-great.
During the weeks of feeling not-so-great, I started to notice a trend.
If I pushed myself harder during my walk — either by adding in some jogging or sprints, or by walking farther — my mood typically improved. Or, at the very least, I didn’t find it as difficult to tackle regular life as it had been.
I noticed this time and time again over the year. In fact, often when I would find myself in an extra-difficult week of depression, I would realize that I had been going too easy on myself.
I hadn’t been walking as long in the morning. Or, if I were adding in some runs, I was jogging rather than sprinting.
Each time I realized this, I would adjust the next morning and push myself harder.
And inevitably, I would notice an improvement in my overall mood, motivation and ability to make wise choices during the day.
4. It calmed my anxiety.
When I began this daily practice, I was dealing with a fair amount of stress due to a number of different circumstances. Often I would wake up with this feeling of dread and anxiety in the pit of my stomach.
And each day that, by the grace of God, I pushed myself to get out of bed, my anxiety would be either greatly decreased or gone by the end of the walk.
Typically I would start the walk feeling a lot of dread, like I couldn’t face the day and what was ahead.
But by the end, I would have more energy and a sense of certainty that I could face the day, and it would be fine. Even if it wasn’t the best day of my life.
Sometimes this would be due to praying during my exercise and turning over the items I was anxious about to God.
But I also think the physical exercise itself was an extra powerful punch in reducing my anxiety and stress levels.
5. It sets me up to make healthier decisions throughout the day.
I have always struggled with moderation when it comes to sweets and unhealthy food.
Honestly, that’s why I rarely (if ever) buy snacks and sweets. And why I don’t bake as often as I used to. I typically can’t stop after one bite or one small piece of candy.
What I noticed while walking every day, though, was that my self-control improved.
At least, it did when it came to work. There was frequently candy and junk food at my job, and in the past, I has always struggled to stay away from it.
But it became a lot easier when I was walking.
And the longer I stayed away from it, the less I wanted it. True, I still loved *really* yummy desserts and dark chocolate. But the cheap, store-bought baked goods or candy bars just didn’t appeal to me as much.
I also noticed that I didn’t struggle as much with watching TV, particularly when I was alone. Watching TV has always been an easy way out for me when I was feeling depressed.
But after implementing my daily walks, I noticed I was able to keep my TV consumption to a minimum. Even when my husband was away all week for a work trip!
All in all, I just felt so good after getting a little bit of exercise that I started to notice how many things took away from that — junk food and watching a lot of TV and being on social media too much, etc.
The exercise gave me the energy to choose the “harder” but more rewarding activities like reading, catching up with friends or writing.
Was the experiment worth it?
Absolutely. Even though my circumstances have changed vastly since I began this practice more than a year ago, I still choose to do it every morning because of the benefits I saw from walking every day.
I’m not saying it’s easy to wake up earlier and exercise right away. It’s not! (See number 2.)
By nature I am more of a slow-morning, stay-in-pajamas-as-long-as-possible person. But by pushing myself outside of that, I’ve seen the rewards
And honestly, it’s worth the inconvenience to set myself up for a better day — and less depression!