Q+A: Will running help me overcome depression?

Q I love running but two years ago my motivation started to slip and I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I am recovering well, and would like to start running again. My therapist says the same amount of activity every day will help stabilise my mood. As I shouldn’t run every day – at least to start with – how can I maintain this important balance of activity and rest every day?

A To successfully return to running, recognise that your fitness will have dropped. Ward off any negative thoughts by being realistic and positive about how long it will take to get back to your previous condition. Keep the amount of activity you do consistent day-to-day by coming up with a couple of alternatives to running. You could run for 30 minutes on day one, walk for 30 minutes on day two and stretch for 30 minutes on day three. Try to do the activity at the same time every day: you’re more likely to stick with it.

Run in a pleasant environment and focus on enjoying what you see and hear and not on your times or heart rate. The run will be stimulating and you’ll feel a sense of achievement when you finish because you will have done something for yourself. Only increase the time you spend running and the number of days you run after consulting your therapist – you don’t want to overdo it, or risk an injury, because coping with setbacks will be more of a challenge if you are depressed.

Recognise your improvements. Keep your goals modest. Reward yourself for just going out and running and sticking to your new fitness routine. This will help you have a successful reintroduction to running, minimise injury risk, and provide you with a greater sense of enjoyment.

Dr Victor Thompson, Clinical Sports Psychologist