When your teen seems to be spending more time in bed or sitting around the house, it can be frustrating that they turn down your suggestions to go outside or get moving. Physical activity has been consistently shown to be associated with improved physical health, life satisfaction, cognitive functioning, and wellbeing. It is often recommended as a form of treatment for depression, as many teens with depression struggle with sedentary behavior and low energy. However, the exact reasons people with depression should exercise more can be barriers to finding the motivation to exercise and pleasure in the experience. Your teen may not be lazy; depression can have a direct effect on physical activity. 

The Link Between Physical Activity and Depression

“Despite experts’ enthusiasm for the potential of exercise, there’s often little recognition that the very thing that would make you feel better is really, really hard when you’re depressed,” explains a recent article by the Huffington Post. “Worse, it may exacerbate the hopeless feeling that comes with depression.”

According to a 2017 study conducted in an outpatient mental health clinic, 84% of people acknowledged that physical activity usually helped them feel better–and the majority wanted to be more active–but 52% blamed their mood as the reason they got less than recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 

Barriers to Physical Activity When Depressed


  • Fatigue
  • Hopelessness
  • Restlessness
  • Social isolation
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy



When teens acknowledge that as a result of being depressed, their level of motivation and lack of energy aren’t because they aren’t trying hard enough, they feel a greater internal locus of control and stop blaming themselves for perceived failures. They can recognize that their mind and body are affected by a physiological response to depression in an effort to preserve itself. 

Ways to Motivate Your Depressed Teen to Be More Active


  • Start small. Programs like “Couch to 5K” recognize that setting smaller goals helps teens build up to longer-term goals. While they may feel obligated to jump towards the finish line, remind them that it is okay to start small. Acknowledge their effort rather than their “progress.” Effort makes a bigger difference in maintaining progress long-term.
  • Find an environment that works for them. Physical activity looks different for every teen. Some teens feel more self-conscious in a gym setting, while others are motivated by being around others. Less organized activities like going for a walk, stretching, or playing a game for fun rather than competition can help teens build confidence. They may need to find environments with less stimuli to help them stay engaged. 
  • Enlist social support. Teens with depression may struggle with staying engaged during group physical activities, but exercising with other people can help hold them accountable and encourage them to enjoy physical activity, rather than seeing it as a chore. They may be irritable or compare themselves to others at first, but being physically active with others offers companionship and empathy.
  • Show them compassion. Depression can already make them believe that they are worthless without piling on exercise guilt and body shame. If your teen is struggling to get out of bed in the morning or to work out regularly, they may have valid excuses related to their mood and energy levels. This does not mean that they are lazy, but rather than they need more support to find motivation.
  • Encourage them to try Adventure Therapy. The goal of adventure therapy is to offer fun, challenge ourselves (and gauge reactions to these challenges and, perhaps, moments of frustration) and to create experiences where reflection, self-awareness, and discovery can occur. No outdoor experience is necessary at wilderness programs designed to help teens struggling with depression regain confidence and develop healthier habits. 

blueFire Wilderness Can Help

blueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allow them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Clients will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of how their attitude affects their actions. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to heal from unhealthy behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life.

Contact us at 1-844-413-1999. We can help your family today!

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