While exercise might help improve depression symptoms, depression can make it harder to want to work out. There are various strategies that may help improve workout motivation.

While some research suggests that exercise may help people with depression, it can be hard to put into practice. Various depression symptoms such as fatigue, low mood, feelings of sadness, and loss of interest can make it difficult to start and stick to a workout plan.

There are many approaches that might help increase motivation to work out. These include finding enjoyable activities, making equipment and workout spaces more available, doing activities with others, and using apps.

On low-mood days, someone might consider doing lower intensity activities if other forms of exercise feel overwhelming.

This article will explain how depression affects workout motivation and discuss tips, activities for low-mood days, and when to contact a doctor.

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Depression can negatively impact someone’s motivation to exercise.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are many symptoms of depression that someone can experience. Some examples include:

  • persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • feelings of irritability, frustration, or restlessness
  • feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or guilt
  • fatigue or low energy
  • difficulty sleeping
  • difficulty making decisions, focusing, or concentrating
  • appetite or weight changes
  • physical aches or pains
  • digestive problems
  • loss of interest or enjoyment in activities

These — as well as other depression symptoms — can make it difficult to start working out or maintain a fitness routine. Additionally, high intensity and high frequency workouts recommended by some trainers may be too demanding for some people.

A 2019 journal article says that in exercise trials, the dropout rate for those with depression was around 18%. This rate is similar to dropout rates for other clinical populations.

While depression can decrease someone’s workout motivation, evidence suggests that exercise can have therapeutic effects on depression and may help alleviate symptoms. A doctor may recommend exercise on its own or in combination with other treatments.

There are many strategies that may improve workout motivation. Everyone is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. Combining strategies could be helpful.

Some possible strategies for improving motivation include the following:

Find enjoyable activities

Finding exercise that is enjoyable may help establish an exercise habit. A fitness environment should also encourage positive, uplifting feelings rather than negative ones.

Researchers have examined the effects of many activities such as mind-body, aerobic, and resistance exercise. Various forms of exercise have shown benefits to mental health or symptom improvements in certain studied populations.

Increase accessibility

Having workout equipment or spaces readily available can make it easier to exercise.

This could mean keeping workout equipment at home or getting access to a gym or exercise facility. A 2021 review also suggests that having more access to green spaces for outdoor activities may encourage physical activity.

Improve self-regulation

Self-regulation involves controlling one’s own behavior.

For example, someone can use an activity tracker to see and evaluate their activity or learn about the various physical and mental benefits of exercise. Someone may also try setting functional or ability-based goals to track progress.

Try group or supervised exercise

Group classes or activities, exercising with family and friends, and supervision from exercise professionals may help someone start or stick with an exercise program.

According to a 2019 article, social support may be a possible variable that affects symptom improvement from exercise. This may be due to the social benefits of group activities and the accountability associated with scheduled workouts.

Use apps

There are various mobile fitness apps available that provide a variety of workout or tracking options. People can search for apps and online videos that provide free, guided workouts suited to their mood and fitness level.

If someone is not feeling up to intense exercise, they may consider doing lower intensity activities. These could include things like yoga, walking, or stretching.

Some health guidelines recommend exercise at higher intensities in order to see benefits. However, this may be too demanding for someone experiencing depression or low mood.

According to a 2021 review article, it is controversial whether different frequencies and intensities of exercise have different impacts on depression symptoms. Lower intensity exercise may improve a person’s self-esteem and mood.

Some research suggests that exercise at lower intensities could have therapeutic effects.

For example, a 2016 study examined how exercise at different intensities can affect depression. The study found that participants in the light, moderate, and vigorous intensity groups all reduced their depression severity scores.

Outdoor activity may also benefit someone experiencing depressive symptoms. Research suggests that there may be associations between mental health benefits and exposure to green spaces.

Someone should contact a doctor if they experience depression symptoms that persist. A doctor will be able to give a diagnosis and design an appropriate treatment plan.

No single exercise plan is right for everyone. A doctor can offer guidance on appropriate exercise programs or refer individuals to a personal trainer or exercise professional.

Research suggests that exercise can help treat depression symptoms. However, depression can negatively impact motivation, making it challenging to start and maintain a workout program.

There are various strategies that may help someone feel motivated to work out. Some approaches include finding an enjoyable form of exercise, making workout spaces and equipment readily available, improving self-regulation, using supervised exercise or working out with others, and using apps.

On low-mood days, someone may consider doing lower intensity exercise like yoga or walking to reap potential benefits.