Fighting Depression with Exercise

Posted on Feb 13, 2012

Guest Author – Mischa Kirby

Change. Some people thrive on it. Many of us are wary of it. But, if a new baby is coming into your life, it’s certain that change is coming. How you deal with change is the real challenge.

Change causes stress, and stress can be fatiguing. The questions before and just after your baby arrives are unrelenting – Will you be able to afford daycare? How do you juggle your already busy life and the new responsibilities of being a parent? Shouldn’t I be happier now?

In his book “Spark,” John J. Ratey, MD tells how stressful thinking can build and build, causing depression-like symptoms.

“Like most psychiatric issues, chronic stress results from the brain getting locked into the same pattern, typically one marked by pessimism, fear and retreat,” Ratey says in the book.1

This applies to all kinds of stress, including the emotional time of becoming a new mother.

Are “Baby Blues” the same as Postpartum Depression?
The Mayo Clinic defines “baby blues”2 as a short period of days or weeks when new mothers feel sadness and slight mood swings as their hormones readjust after the birth of a baby. Postpartum depression lasts longer3 – more than two weeks, typically – and new mothers may have severe mood swings, a lack of joy in life or feelings of shame for not being able to bond as they hoped with their babies.

How Being Active Can Help Depression

Your physician or obstetrician should be the first person you call if you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from depression. With their help a patient may be prescribed therapy or medication. What you can do yourself in addition to that medical care is get moving.

Dr. Ratey’s research shows that consistent physical activity helps people take care of their emotional healthy by helping relieve the feelings of anxiety, fear and depression.

“Exercise controls the emotional and physical feelings of stress,” Ratey said. “It gets us moving, naturally, which stimulates the brain stem and gives us more energy, passion, interest, and motivation.”4

He goes on to say that the worst advice for new mothers who are feeling down is to take it easy. “Rest is important, certainly, but not as important as activity,” Ratey said.5

Where to Find Help

The Fort Myers YMCA (1360 Royal Palm Square Blvd., 239.275.9622) has numerous classes and activities to help you get moving, including Zumba and yoga.  The Y offers free child watch for members from 8 a.m. – Noon and 5 -8 p.m. weekdays and from 8 – 11 a.m. on Saturdays. Also, as part of our non-profit mission, we don’t turn anyone away because of inability to pay. Financial assistance is available.


Healthy Start of Southwest Florida helps ensure moms and babies have access to medical care and other community services to give babies a Healthy Start in life. Since 1992, our programs have been making a significant impact on reducing the number of infant deaths, and increasing the number of healthy births in Southwest Florida If you or someone you know needs help, call us at 239.425-6920.


1. “Spark,” p. 60

2. Mayo Clinic –

3. Mayo Clinic –

4. “Spark,” p. 135

5. “Spark,” p. 208