ASAP Resources - Exercise

Using Exercise to Enhance Your Mood


  1. Introduction
  2. Establishing an Exercise program
  3. Fitting Fitness In
  4. Sticking with It
  5. More Exercise Tips


Most of us know that exercise has a definite physiological benefit. Physicians have prescribed exercise as the treatment for a broad range of medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and diabetes. Other benefits are improved breathing, reduced joint stiffness, and increased physical energy. Yet, perhaps not everyone is fully aware of the long-term psychological benefits of exercise.

Mood problems can be present for many different reasons and causes, and they can affect all aspects of our lives, including the workplace. A study by the RAND Corporation found that patients with depression spend more days in bed than those patients with other medical disorders, such as diabetes, arthritis, back or lung problems. Researchers have spent more than 25 years systematically investigating the relationship between exercise and mood problems. Researchers investigating the effects of exercise on volunteers with depression found that “exercise therapy is feasible and is associated with significant therapeutic benefit,” particularly if the exercise program is continued over time. They believe that systematic exercise may have a positive psychological benefit, because it seems to increase the development of a sense of personal mastery and positive self-regard. Yet, it can be a challenge to plan, initiate, and maintain an exercise regimen.

Strategies for Establishing an Exercise Program

As with any major undertaking to create change and bring about benefit, a carefully thought out and comprehensive assessment of one’s life circumstances should be established. If possible, seek professional assistance with this task. There are a number of psychotherapists who are specially trained to work with individuals around the issue of formulating an exercise regimen to manage mood problems. Listed below are some steps taken in this highly collaborative endeavor:

  •  First, a collaborative assessment of your concerns is identified within the areas of emotions, thoughts, behaviors, interpersonal, social systems, and biological elements. The focus here is to identify your strengths and weaknesses within these categories.
  • The therapist and you have a collaborative discussion of research results regarding the influence of exercise on mood problems. At this point, it is important to be informed about what kind and how much exercise is effective; in addition, it is important to know why people do not start or cannot maintain an exercise routine.
  • The therapist then assists you with determining the high-priority elements within the assessment process. In other words, which of the previously identified concerns will get in the way of or even end your exercise program?
  • Then you will have a collaborative discussion about how to develop a few strategies to reduce the most difficult obstacles in establishing an exercise regimen. This discussion focuses on your strengths and clarifies the ways you can use them to maintain your exercise routine.
  • The therapist will ask you to identify your exercise preferences with regard to specific elements. For example—the content (aerobic or non-aerobic), the logistics (at home or at a fitness center), the social (alone or group activity), or structural (music or no music) elements that are most appealing to you are noted.
  • Next, a collaborative exercise plan is written that combines all of the logistical components previously identified which will include establishing a starting date and subsequent review date(s). Depending on your interests and limitations, you can be a creative as you like with your plan.
  • Finally, periodic discussions are scheduled in order to make plan modifications, to review setbacks, and to develop new plans, as needed. This supportive strategy will be critical in assisting you with managing the difficulties and the “bumps-in-the-road” as you progress.

This approach strongly encourages a highly collaborative problem-solving relationship with a therapist which can prove to be a powerful component in the success of enhancing your mood through the medium of exercise. An important consideration is to always consult with your physician prior to implementing a new exercise regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

References and Resources

1. Babyak, M. et al, Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at Ten Months. Psychosomatic Medicine, 2000, pp. 62, 633-638.

2. National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.

3. Pollock, K. M., Exercise in Treating Depression: Broadening the Psychotherapist’s Role. Journal of Clinical Psychology/In Session: Psychotherapy in Practice. 57(11), 2001, pp. 1289-1300.



Fitting Fitness In: The First Steps to Getting Active

The first step in becoming more active is the hardest. But as you begin to add activity to your day, you will see that the key to becoming active is learning to identify the opportunities for fitness and taking advantage of them as much as possible. The key to getting started is with everyday activities.

The Surgeon General recommends doing moderate intensity activities for 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. The 30 minutes does not have to occur all at once. Some examples of increasing everyday activity are using the stairs instead of the elevator, walking part of the way to work, or parking your car in the farthest space available and walking the rest of the way to your office. Every 5 to 10-minute dose of activity can help increase energy and reduce stress levels.


Your Fitness Program: Sticking With It

To avoid burn out or injury, start your exercise program slowly. Try to build these new activities, such as walking, into your daily work and home life. By developing short-term goals (i.e. "I will walk for 20 minutes after lunch every day this week"), you are more likely to accomplish them.

To achieve cardiorespiratory fitness and significant weight loss, you will need to gradually increase the intensity of the activity from moderate to vigorous, where you are working about 75-80% of your maximum heart rate, and increase the time you are active from 20-30 minutes to 20-60 minutes, as well as maintaining your commitment to regular activity. In other words, to improve your cardiovascular fitness, increase your muscular strength and flexibility, and change your body composition, you have to work harder.


More Exercise Tips

  • Register for a walking event or short race (5k) 3-4 months from now to give you a goal to work towards and time to train for it.
  • Increase the intensity of your walking program by increasing the pace and/or distance of your regular walks.
  • Alter your walking/running route to include hills and some stairclimbing. This will also increase the intensity of your program.
  • Try other activities as part of your exercise program, such as biking, swimming, tennis, hiking, rock climbing, dance lessons, etc.
  • Add a strength training/weight training component 2-3 times per week to increase muscle strength and tone, and help raise your metabolic rate to burn more calories at rest.
  • Don't forget to stretch. Stretching after exercising help to improve flexibility and prevent injuries.

Source: University Health Services, UC Berkeley 
UC Davis Campus Recreation Center


Academic and Staff Assistance Program (ASAP) offers confidential, cost-free assessment, counseling, consultation and referral services to all UC Davis Health System  faculty, staff, and their family members. Whether the problem is work-related, personal, career or relationship focused, ASAP can assist you in evaluating and resolving the problem.

You can call ASAP at 916-734-2727 for an appointment.