Exercise for Depression: Breaking Down Barriers for a Happier You

As chiropractors, we understand that a person’s health and well-being encompass more than just physical symptoms. Chronic pain, while often viewed in isolation, is in fact influenced by many factors. Research consistently shows that taking a whole person approach (i.e., biopsychosocial model) yields the most promising long-term results. This approach considers the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person’s life. It recognises that these factors interplay and impact pain and recovery. By addressing all aspects of your well-being, we can provide you with better long-term outcomes.

In our earlier blog post, we have discussed how depression and anxiety is a problem for Singapore. It costs us $16 billion a year, which is 3% of our annual GDP! Nonetheless, exercise can help. Many large studies have shown exercise to be effective for both adults and youths. The improvements from exercising for depression and anxiety is comparable to psychotherapy and significantly better than medication.

In today’s post, we will discuss the barriers to exercising and potential solutions that can help you overcome them.

What does research regarding exercise for depression tells us?

exercise for depression
A lot of people are surprised to learn that exercise can also help with depression This study published earlier this year found that exercise is comparable in effectiveness to psychotherapy and is much better than medication

✅ Exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression and depressive symptoms. It is not just a generic exercise-is-good-for-you advice.
✅ Exercise can be a treatment option for individuals who refuse or cannot tolerate medication and/or psychotherapy.
✅ Mental healthcare providers and exercise professionals can co-manage clients with depression and anxiety within a true biopsychosocial framework.
❌ Self-directed exercise, while efficacious for depression, does not replace care provided by mental health providers.
❌ Even though exercise is helpful, exercise professionals such as chiropractors are not trained to diagnose or treat mental health conditions and should not be the first-choice therapist for mental health related complaints.

Barriers to exercise for depression and anxiety

Despite the overwhelming support for exercise, we should consider that the barriers to exercise for individuals who experience depression and anxiety may not be the same as us. Being able to get out of bed, something most of us may take for granted every, can be a formidable challenge ask for people living with depression. As such, helping people experiencing psychological distress is not just a case of dishing out advices like “just go out and exercise lah.

The barriers to exercising we will discuss today is from a qualitative analysis from the Netherlands. In the study, they have identified not having fun, being busy, mental complaints, lack of energy, procrastination and physical complaints as barriers.

1. Exercise is a Chore

Despite the many benefits of regular exercise, most Singaporeans remain sedentary. Singapore’s highly competitive and academically focused culture often leaves little time for physical activities. This emphasis on work performance and career progression may overshadow the importance of exercise, leading to low participation rates. Exercise has been proven to have a positive impact on work productivity by boosting energy levels, reducing stress, and improving overall well-being. However, it’s important to understand that the results of exercise on work productivity may not be immediate.

If you find exercise to be a chore, it’s essential to explore ways to make it more enjoyable and sustainable. Here are some strategies to consider:

Trying Different Sports and Exercises

duxton park exercise corner
We are very fortunately to have exercise corners in every neighborhood These outdoor spaces are free for you to use If you dont enjoy outdoor workouts you can always try attending other exercises or sports classes Most gyms and fitness studios offer free or discounted trials

Low rates of physical activity in Singapore inevitable lead to poor exposure to the different types of sports and exercises available here. If you find working out to be a chore, trying different exercises you have not experienced before may help you find something you actually enjoy.

It is very easy to assume you would not enjoy a new sport based on our head knowledge. However, actually trying out the activity may change your perception towards to it. Exercising is not always just a physical experience. There are others elements to it that may lead you to enjoy a particular sport.

In group sports or group training, camaraderie, peer support, accountability, shared experiences and memories are examples of what may help improve your relationship with exercising. Social support alone has been reported to increase physical activity levels. In other words, you don’t even need to like an exercise to keep exercising. Being in a supportive environment, having a sense of belonging, enjoying the company of other people with similar exercise goals alone can already help you get started with exercising.

What if social experience in itself is stress-inducing?

There are many sports that you can do alone. If you are new to it, it is advisable to attend classes to ensure you are doing it correctly and safely. To reduce social interaction for the purpose of exercising, you can consider signing up for one-to-one classes. It may also help to request for a coach who can work with your preferred level of social interaction.

The mental stimulation of learning a new sport as well as the growth you experience through learning can be enjoyable. Overcoming mental barriers fosters a sense of resilience and adaptability. The willingness to embrace new experiences can positively impact various aspects of your life beyond exercise.

2. No time to exercise

It is true that nobody can add more hours to your day. Each and everyone of us only have 24 hours everyday. What we can do is to change how we perceive time and also to work on improving time management so there is time to exercise.

This is one of the reasons why working with a mental health professional can be helpful. Knowing that exercise is good for you is not the same as actually engaging in regular exercise. It is not uncommon for people experiencing depressive and anxious to struggle with starting to exercise. This is something your psychologist or counsellor can help with.

Incorporating exercise into daily routines

Sometimes increasing physical activity alone is enough to get you started. One of the ways you can do this is by taking the stairs instead of the lift. If feasible, you can also hop off the bus or train a stop earlier to getting more walking into your daily life. It may not seem like much at the beginning but every small change will add up to a bigger change.

Practise time blocking

Practising time blocking can be a valuable strategy for prioritising self-care such as exercising. Time blocking involves setting aside dedicated blocks of time for specific activities, including physical activity. By scheduling specific time slots for exercise in your daily or weekly calendar, you create a structured plan that helps ensure you make time for it.

Treat these blocked-off periods as non-negotiable commitments to yourself and your well-being. This technique can help you overcome the tendency to overlook or skip exercise due to other obligations. Whether it’s early morning workouts, lunchtime walks, or evening fitness classes, time blocking allows you to allocate focused time for physical activity and make it a regular part of your routine.

Time blocking is most effective when you commit to showing up for the scheduled exercise, even if you may not feel motivated or energised in that moment. Consistency and discipline are key to reaping the benefits of regular physical activity. By honoring your commitment to yourself and following through with the scheduled exercise, you establish a positive habit and build momentum toward your fitness goals.

3. Negative thoughts and reduced motivation towards exercise

This is another area that your therapist can help you. It is sometimes a chicken and egg situation. We know that exercise is good for depression and anxiety. We also know that people with depression and anxiety are less likely to exercise. Then how or where do we start?

If you can already add some exercise to your weekly or daily routine, you are off to a good start. If not, working with your therapist to figure out a plan to get you going can be very helpful. Beyond time management, negative thoughts can also be intrusive to your exercise goals.

Sometimes, the key to overcoming negative thoughts towards exercise is simply showing up. Once you step foot in the gym or start engaging in physical activity, you may find that the negative thoughts fade into the background. The act of getting started can create momentum and shift your focus towards the present moment and the task at hand. However, if the negative thoughts persist, remember that you always have the choice to leave.

What truly matters is that you made the effort to try. By showing up and giving it a shot, you have already taken a significant step towards helping yourself get started with exercising. Each attempt builds resilience and sets the foundation for future progress. So, even if it doesn’t go perfectly, applaud yourself for trying and remember that the act of showing up is a powerful achievement in itself.

Being kind and compassionate towards yourself is important. Accept that it’s normal to have negative thoughts or occasional setbacks. Treat yourself with understanding and forgiveness, and remind yourself that every step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.

4. Exercise is causing physical pain

chiropractic clinic singapore
We offer exercise therapy and personal training at our chiropractic clinic A lot of people found that surprising because we are so used to chiropractors and their crack and go treatments The truth of the matter is that exercise is part of chiropractic since its founding days Unfortunately a lot of chiropractors choose to offer it as a treatment even though there is overwhelming research supporting exercise as treatment for chronic pain

If you experience physical pain with exercise, you should consider working with both chiropractor and a mental health provider. Psychologists and counsellors specialise in providing mental health treatment, focusing on emotions, cognition, and behavior. They can support individuals with depression, anxiety, or other psychological challenges. Chiropractors, on the other hand, possess extensive training in musculoskeletal health and can assist clients with addressing the physical aspects of exercising while managing mental health conditions. By working together, these professionals can provide a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of pain management and overall well-being.

Research suggests that there is a significant overlap between depression and chronic pain. Studies have shown that approximately 30-50% of individuals with depression also experience chronic pain. The relationship between depression and pain is complex and can have a bidirectional impact, with each condition influencing and exacerbating the other. It highlights the importance of considering both mental health and pain management in a comprehensive approach to treatment. Collaborative efforts between mental health professionals and healthcare providers, such as chiropractors, can be beneficial in addressing the interplay between depression and chronic pain to improve overall well-being.

Finding freedom from pain, depression or anxiety

Experiencing pain during exercise doesn’t mean that you have to give up on physical activity indefinitely. With the right professional assistance, you can regain the ability to exercise regularly. Seeking help from healthcare providers, such as chiropractors can provide valuable guidance and support in managing and overcoming exercise-related pain. They can assess your condition, provide appropriate interventions, and help you develop a tailored plan to gradually reintroduce exercise safely. Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and with the right help, you can find ways to stay active and enjoy the benefits of regular exercise once again. Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance—it can make a significant difference in your ability to resume an active lifestyle.

At Square One Active Recovery, we run 12-week recovery programmes to help people get started with exercise. Our programme is suitable for people of all ages, including seniors above 65, as well as sedentary individuals with no prior exercise experience. Furthermore, our founder Jesse is a solution-focused coach and is currently pursuing further studies in psychology at James Cook University. His background puts us in a unique position to effectively co-manage your case with your therapist. If you do not already have a therapist, we can also help you with finding a suitable psychologist for your case.

We invite you to get in touch with us by filling out the form below. Our unique exercise programme is designed to meet your specific needs and goals. Whether you’re looking to overcome pain, improve fitness, or enhance overall well-being, our team is dedicated to helping you achieve success. Leave us a message, and we’ll provide you with more information and answer any questions you may have. Take the first step towards a healthier and more active lifestyle by reaching out to us today!


Frustrated by the lack of results-driven and ethical chiropractic clinics in Singapore, Chiropractor Jesse Cai found Square One Active Recovery to deliver meaningful and sustainable pain solutions.

Our goal? To make our own services redundant to you.

*We do not offer temporary pain relief such as chiropractic adjustments, dry needling, or any form of soft tissue therapy.