Depression & anxiety = adapt your workouts

Depression & anxiety = adapt your workouts

This is a topic which isn’t written about much. Depression and anxiety are real and we read that exercise can lower stress levels and people can benefit from the “happy hormone” that is released in their brains after they have exercised. All this is true, just not for those who suffer from depression or anxiety.

People who suffer from depression or anxiety, are more prone to stress. Their anxiety often stems from stress or stressful situations and this can lead to depression. (1)

In many cases, exercise is a great stress reliever because of the endorphins that are released into your body when you have exercised but there’s something else no one tells us. That too much exercise can in fact be a “stress” on your body. DNAFit says the following with regards to exercise:

“Research shows that the time and intensity of exercise can affect the level of cortisol release. When it comes to exercise, more may not be better. Training for more than 60 minutes, even at a low intensity will burn up the body’s glycogen stores and stimulate cortisol release. A study confirmed that long-term cortisol exposure was significantly higher in endurance athletes.”

If we take the above into consideration for people who do suffer from anxiety and depression, then we need to look at how much exercise and how regularly they should exercise in order to avoid the exercise becoming stress on their bodies. To let exercise rather be something that is enjoyable to them. If we don’t, then exercise can worsen their depression and anxiety, to such a level where they want to give up on their healthy lifestyle, might not want to get out of bed the next day after they have exercised because the depression/anxiety is much higher. 

If you are someone who suffers from anxiety/depression or knows someone who does, then you will know that stress isn’t a good thing for you/them. In my years of experience in personal training, I have seen how people burn out from doing too much exercise and I have also worked with people who have had anxiety/depression. Here are my recommendations:

  • 30-45 minutes of exercise every second day. You should leave a day of rest open between your days of exercise. It takes your body longer to recover from stress when you suffer from depression or anxiety. You feel fatigue longer than other people after exercise sessions or even when you experience stressful events. Nothing to be ashamed of. We are all different. Just make sure you take the time to recover properly, you don’t need to explain it to anyone. You just say, it’s your journey and you want to walk it this way. 
  • When you do a type of cardio activity where your heart rate is higher over longer periods of time for example with running, cycling, rowing, swimming, etc. Then you need to make sure that these sessions aren’t longer than 45 minutes in total. If you do like to do long distances and are fit enough to do so, then you make sure you jog not run, leisurely cycle and not go all out, row at a slow pace and swim at a slower pace. These types of activities are harder on the body and for someone who has depression/anxiety, it’s more cortisol/stress on the body. 
  • Balance is key. As personal trainers, we see much more of a person because of how close we work with them. If you are a personal trainer, then please motivate your clients to do fun things as well. Even if you are someone who isn’t a trainer and reads this article, then take this advice. Have fun! In between the workouts, schedule 1 hour per day for yourself where you do an activity where you have fun. You don’t need money to have fun. You don’t need to go out to have fun. All you have to do is think of what made you happy when you were a child. Then go out and do that. Or think back at what used to make you happy and see whether you are still doing that. If not, then it’s time again to bring that back (make sure that it’s something not unholy. Whatever you do, let it bring glory to God.) For me, it’s PC gaming. Yes, I know! I know! It gets a bad rep sometimes but again, make sure that what you do isn’t unholy. I like to play The Sims 4 or My time at Portia. That hour that I am playing, takes the mind of the world and things around me, de-stressing me. Fun! It’s fun to me. And other times it’s baking. So find that fun thing of yours or your client. 


Too much exercise can be a stress on your body, extra stress that someone who has depression/anxiety doesn’t need. Do exercises that are lower in intensity, shorter workout sessions, and have fun to de-stress. 

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