Taking control of your mood: Get active

Managing low mood

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What It Does

This article will teach you about:

checkmarkThe effect of exercise on mood
checkmarkBest types of exercise for mood
checkmarkExercises at different levels of intensity

How It Helps

This tool will help you:

checkmarkPick the best kind of exercise for you
checkmarkDevelop an exercise plan
checkmarkSet activity goals for yourself

This article will teach you about:

checkmarkThe effect of exercise on mood
checkmarkBest types of exercise for mood
checkmarkExercises at different levels of intensity

This tool will help you:

checkmarkPick the best kind of exercise for you
checkmarkDevelop an exercise plan
checkmarkSet activity goals for yourself

Save this resource

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This resource is part of a series on low mood and depression. You can find the other parts here:

1. Intro | 2. Healthy Habits | 3. Manage your feelings | 4. Get active | 5. Reduce Tension | 6. Stay connected


Get active

This may surprise you, but a proven research finding is that one of the most effective ways to improve your health and alleviate stress, worry, sadness, and even anger, is through regular activity and exercise.

Just about any kind of activity or exercise is helpful (e.g. walking, cycling, tennis, even gardening) because it helps release tension, helps clear your mind of distressing thoughts, and improves your overall fitness level.

An ideal combination of activities involves aerobic exercises, stretching, and muscle-toning exercises.

  • Aerobic exercise involves repetitive movements of large muscle groups. This kind of activity helps strengthen your cardiovascular system and increase stamina. Examples include jogging, swimming, brisk walking, bicycling, and tennis.

  • Stretching is slow, sustained, and relaxing. The goal is to decrease muscle tension, improve flexibility, and maintain joint mobility. Yoga is a good example of stretching.

  • Muscle-toning exercise focuses on firming specific muscle groups. Examples include weightlifting (resistance training), sit-ups, stomach crunches, and push-ups.

Get active: Your action plan

Step 1: Determine your pre-activity fitness level

If you are not used to exerting yourself, be cautious before increasing your activity level because it can lead to injury (e.g. muscle strain) which, in turn, could have a negative effect on your mood.

If you lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, smoke, or have any health conditions, always increase your activity levels slowly (e.g. increase your distance or pace of walking very gradually over time).

A good way to determine your readiness for activity, and the amount and frequency of activity that will be helpful for you, is to consult your doctor or healthcare provider.

Additionally, consult your doctor if any of the following symptoms emerge during activity:

  • Dizziness

  • Irregular heartbeats

  • Tightness or pressure in your chest, shoulders, arms, or neck

  • Extreme exhaustion or breathlessness after you have stopped the activity

Otherwise, if all systems are go, proceed to step 2!

Step 2: Consider these questions

When planning to increase your activity level, consider these kinds of questions:

  • Do you want to improve cardiovascular functioning (emphasis on aerobic activities), muscle flexibility (emphasis on stretching), or improve muscle tone and strength (strengthening activities)? Or some combination of these?

  • Do you prefer indoor or outdoor activities? Being alone or with others? Competitive or casual exercise?

  • How much time can you realistically devote to improving your activity level and controlling your stress? What time of day is best for you to be active?

Step 3: Consider your activity options

Examples of light exercise include:

  • strolling

  • gardening

  • playing Frisbee

  • bowling

  • yoga (gentle forms, e.g. Hatha yoga)

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include:

  • brisk walking

  • biking

  • dancing

  • push-ups or sit-ups

  • light weight lifting

  • climbing stairs

  • tennis

  • in-line skating

  • swimming

  • yoga (moderate forms, e.g. PowerYoga or Ashtanga Yoga)

Examples of vigorous-intensity exercise include:

  • jogging

  • aerobics

  • yoga (power forms)

  • jumping jacks

  • soccer

  • squash

  • jumping rope

Step 4: Establish activity goals

Consider the information from the preceding steps and set some specific goals for yourself.

For example, if you like to exercise with others, and you have a daily lunch break, consider a brisk walk with friends for half of your break (the other for eating your lunch). Be sure that your goals are specific, achievable, and motivating.

Try thinking up some activity goals for the upcoming week, two weeks from now, and one month from now, and write them down on a piece of paper or in a planner.

Step 5: Identify any obstacles to increasing your activity level

What might interfere with your plans or goals for increased activity (e.g. motivation, forgetfulness, lack of equipment, lack of time, feeling uncertain how to perform an activity)?

Write down some potential obstacles and how you will deal with them if they arise.

For example: “My biggest obstacle is motivation. So I will plan to exercise with a friend and we will help motivate each other.”

Step 6: Track your progress with a daily activity diary

Successful change requires that you track your progress so that you know when you are being successful at increasing your activity level. A daily activity diary can help. Here, you record:

  • Your activity throughout the day, including a description of the activity

  • The duration and intensity of the activity

  • Any comments or thoughts you had before, during, and after the activity

At the end of this section, there is an example of a “daily activity diary” that you can copy. Use this diary as long as you like, or until exercise becomes a habit in your life and you find that you no longer need to keep track of your progress.

Step 7: Reward yourself

Finally, a good action plan includes a reward to celebrate your success. How will you reward your progress? How often will you reward yourself? Come up with a reward plan and write it down.

For example: “At the end of a successful week of lunch-break walking, I will reward myself by going to a movie with a friend,” or “When I finish two weeks of doing yoga regularly, I will reward myself by shopping for some new clothing.”

Exercise/Daily Activity Diary

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