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Battling The Blues With Exercise

« WeCare Blog | March 15, 2022 |
Battling The Blues With Exercise

Gina Addy McKelvey, is a family nurse and diabetes educator. She has been living with type 1 diabetes for over four decades, and believes those living with diabetes can enjoy long, healthy, productive, happy lives. Here she talks about how physical exercise helps her battle the blues.

All of us know how overwhelming staying healthy can be, especially when diabetes is part of the equation. Diabetes can also throw brain chemicals and hormones off balance, so most of you will not be surprised to learn diabetes and depression are linked. Studies tell us that the risk of depression is up to three times higher for those living with type 1 diabetes compared to the general population.1 I certainly have experienced periods of depression in my many years of living with diabetes.

Depression should not be swept under a rug or denied; instead, it should be actively treated. Treatment for depression may involve counselling, medication, and cognitive behavioural therapy. An important component of cognitive behavioural therapy is exercise. That mind-body connection is just as helpful even when you’re not depressed but still feeling down or stressed out.

When my kids were young (and I was young), being active was easy because I was always running after them or taking them places. Now that my kids are adults and I am in my 50s with a full-time job and myriad of responsibilities, I have to be very intentional about making time for exercise. My stress level goes down dramatically when I exercise, and problems that seemed overwhelming often appear less daunting. Exercise clears my mind and helps me cope more effectively. And honestly, exercise helps me maintain my blood glucose levels in my target range, and when my glucose level is in target, I feel better!

Six Positive Benefits Of Exercise To Help Battle The Blues:2

Exercise is possibly the most underutilised antidepressant. If you’ve ever taken a brisk walk or a run after a stressful day, you likely felt better afterwards. Not only does exercise elevate mood in the immediate period following activity, but the positive effects are also long-term. I think sometimes we consider exercise a “punishment” our diabetes healthcare team mandates because we’re overweight or our cholesterol levels are not optimal, but I want you to change that perspective on exercise and make it about you feeling better. Say it out loud – “I want to feel better!!” There will be health benefits such as strengthening your heart, lowering your blood pressure, and reducing your body fat, which are all awesome effects, but focus on how exercise affects your mood most of all. These benefits include:

  1. Reducing stress and anxiety.
  2. Improving sleep (which improves glucose levels)3.
  3. Boosting self-confidence and self-image.
  4. Increasing energy levels (who couldn’t use more energy?).
  5. Helping you look fit and trim (which feeds back to point number 3!).
  6. Boosting brain power.

Six Tips To Help You Get Started:

Exercise doesn’t have to be kept to the gym. Activities like gardening, yard-work, even washing a car can be physical exercise if done with enough enthusiasm! Here are six points to consider to bolster you in your battle against the blues.

  1. Choose an activity you enjoy! Exercise should be fun, not a chore. Any form of moderate exercise can help ward off depression.
  2. Make exercise a part of your schedule. Put it on your calendar if it helps. Often having an exercise buddy helps keep you on track and provides emotional support.
  3. Vary your exercises so you don’t get bored. After all, variety is the spice of life!
  4. Set reasonable goals. Start with 20 minutes, three times a week, and work up to 30 minutes, five times a week. You can break these up into 10-minute sessions two or three times each day if that’s all the time you have available. Remember, something is better than nothing! Our two fun videos Be Active, Stay Active and Exercising With Maria can get you started without even leaving the comfort of your own home.
  5. Stick with it! It will become part of your regular routine and help ward off depression. If you miss a day or a few days, don’t worry about it; every day is a new day and a new chance to get moving!
  6. Talk with your diabetes healthcare team before starting a new exercise routine to make sure it’s safe for you and discuss how an exercise program or physical activity fits into your health goals.

Final Thoughts

Choose a few fun physical exercises that you like, then get yourself off the couch, get moving and feel better! If you exercise regularly but depression still interferes with your daily life, be sure to talk to your diabetes healthcare team about it.


  1. Bădescu SV, Tătaru C, Kobylinska L, et al. The association between Diabetes mellitus and Depression. J Med Life. 2016;9(2):120-125.
  2. Elmagd M. Benefits, Need and Importance of Daily Exercise. IJPESH. 2016;3(5):22-27.
  3. Tracy E, Berg C, Kent De Grey R, Butner J, Litchman M, Allen N, Helgeson V. The Role of Self-regulation Failures and Self-care in the Link Between Daily Sleep Quality and Blood Glucose Among Adults with Type 1 Diabetes, Ann Behav Med.2020;54(40): 249–257.

*Editor’s note: This article has been adapted and reproduced from a post published on Medtronic Diabetes US.