Physical Activity

We need to be active for our biological systems to work properly – this includes our brain functioning. Our bodies and minds are connected and in constant communication, so physical activity can affect what goes on in our brains, and vice versa.

Man walking a dog

When a guy is depressed, his physical activity will suffer too

Fatigue, lethargy, and a general lack of motivation to do anything when we’re depressed can really slow us down.

But just as depression can impact our physical activity, we can use physical activity to fight depression. Researchers have found that establishing a regular exercise routine can actually reduce depression.[1] Physical activity releases brain chemicals that relieve stress, promote alertness, and improve overall mental well-being. It also helps improve self-esteem. With so much to gain and nothing to lose (except for a few extra pounds if we’re carrying them), building physical activity into our daily routine just makes sense.

Guy jogging outside to combat depression

Getting exercise into your life

Here we have gathered some tips that can help us tackle three key problems related to physical activity when we are depressed:

  1. Not having enough energy
  2. Not knowing how to get started
  3. Not able to stick with it

Usually, the biggest hurdle for guys is the “go big or go home” attitude, meaning that a lot of guys carry the misconception that “proper” exercise has to be complicated, sophisticated, and very physically demanding.  But this isn’t the case. Routine physical activity can be simple, straightforward, and fun. Introducing small changes that are maintained over the long haul will have a huge impact on keeping our minds and bodies working well.

For more comprehensive information and guidance about exercise and physical activity, scroll to the Additional Resources section at the bottom of this page.

Don't have enough energy?
Don’t know how to get started?
Not able to stick with it?
Don't have enough energy?

Depression can drain our energy, making us feel tired, slow, and unmotivated to do even the simplest task.  And the kicker is, the more we slow down, the more tired and listless we end up feeling. Here are a few tips to help us get things moving forward again.

Think movement

Forget comparing ourselves with the neighbour who jogs – start with the simple act of moving. On our lowest days, this might mean just dragging ourselves out of bed – but it’s a start and getting ourselves in motion can actually help us feel more energized and put our minds in a better place.  

Just do it

The days we feel least like doing something active are the most important days to do it. Those are the days when we will feel best after doing it.

Do it for someone else

Often we’ll bend over backwards for those we love. Think of your physical activity as necessary for helping your children, partner, friend, or pet. By helping them, we’re doing ourselves some good too – it’s a win-win situation.

Positive thoughts, positive action

Negative thinking can really grind us down, so try flipping things around. Think of the good stuff about physical activity – more energy, better sleep, better appetite, clearer thinking – to help get us going. A positive mind frame will lead to positive action.

Recognize how hard it is

When we’ve managed to get ourselves going – even for the simplest of things like washing the dishes, for example – we should take a moment to recognize that any kind of physical activity is really difficult when depression is at its worst. We can use the momentum to carry ourselves on to our next small task.

Don’t know how to get started?

When our thinking is clouded by depression, it can be hard to plan, organize, and get things started. A guy can end up doing nothing because he just doesn’t know where to begin. Below are some tips to get the ball rolling.

Keep it simple

It doesn’t have to be complicated – just keep things simple. If the most you can do is take a short walk, start there. The next day, try to do a little more and build on that.

Pick a convenient activity

It’s more likely that we’ll do something if it’s easy and convenient. Walking or running don’t require much equipment and are easy to do from nearly anywhere. The same goes for swimming or exercise class — if it’s easy to get to and the timing is convenient, it’s more likely that we’ll go.

Do something you enjoy

If we don’t like an activity, chances are we’re not going to do it. But if we enjoy a particular activity — whether it’s walking, biking, or ping pong — we’ll be more likely to do it and stick with it over time. The important thing is to pick something we like. Then we’ll look forward to it and feel better when we do it.

Involve other people

Involving other people is a great way to motivate ourselves to get active and be social. Join an exercise group or exercise with a friend. You’ll stay connected and you’ll have support to help you stay on track.

Use reminders

To make sure we don’t “forget” to do some physical activity, we can give ourselves reminders. This could be as simple as a sticky note on our mirror reminding us to go for a walk in the morning.

Not able to stick with it?

The most important thing when it comes to physical activity and making sure you get the most out of it is to make it a habit. There are a number of ways we can start routines for physical activity. Below are just a few tips to give us some ideas.

Set reasonable goals

Our mission doesn’t have to be working out in the gym five days a week. Think realistically about what you might be able to do. Tailor your plan to your needs and abilities rather than trying to meet unrealistic targets that you’re unlikely to meet.

Make a commitment with another person or a group

Committing to a physical activity routine with a friend or family member will allow us to push and support each other.

Reward yourself

When we’re first establishing our routine, rewarding ourselves can be helpful for staying motivated.

Build a lifelong habit

The purpose of physical activity is not about shedding a few pounds or reducing our pant size and then telling ourselves that we made it. Rewarding ourselves for such accomplishments is important, but when it comes down to it, the ultimate goal is for physical activity to become a lifelong habit that we take pride in and enjoy.

Tips for regular physical activity

There are many ways that we can introduce physical activity into our daily life. While modest, they can add up to pay big dividends in the long run. The tips below can get us pointed in the right direction.

Try some mid-day motion

While it might not always be possible, taking a little break during our work-day to go for a walk, swim, or yoga class can make a world of difference. Our minds will be fresher, we’ll be more productive, and we’ll feel good.

Use manual transportation

A simple way to increase daily physical activity is to walk or cycle whenever we have to commute somewhere.

Take the stairs

One of the easiest and most effective ways to get our heart rate up is by skipping the elevator in favour of the stairs.

Make it social

Taking part in activities such as hikes or walks with friends or family members is a great way to have some fun with your fitness.

Work up a sweat

To get the most benefit out of any physical activity, we should try to get our heart rate up, work up a sweat, and keep at it for at least 30 minutes.

Spread it out

Physical activity needs to happen throughout the week. One or two exercise sessions won’t do us much good. Shoot for about 2-3 hours of moderate physical activity over the course of each week. It might seem like a lot, but we could aim for five separate 30 minute sessions each week. Spreading things out over the week makes it much more manageable.

Embrace variety

Variety is the spice of life. We should make sure we vary our physical activity so that we don’t get bored. Check with your local community centre for different programs on offer.

Be realistic

Don’t break the bank when it comes to physical activities. Unless we are going to be using them regularly, avoid buying health club memberships or expensive equipment.

Putting It Into Practice

Forming new habits can be tough, so we’ve gathered helpful tips and strategies for creating daily habits and routines to fight depression.


  1. Eriksson, S., & Gard, Gunvor. (2013). Physical exercise and depression. Physical Therapy Reviews, 16(4), 261-268.

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