Depression can have many faces. For some, it is a reaction to a specific situation, such as a death of a loved one, work woes, or economic insecurity.
Others slip into depression after giving birth (postpartum) or when the weather turns cold and gray (seasonal affect disorder). Then there are those people who suffer from altered brain chemistry that results in a general feeling of sadness with no specific trigger or cause.
Regardless of the type or cause of depression, the treatments tend to be the same: anti-depressants, psychological therapy, or a combination of the two. However, there are issues with both solutions.
On the antidepressant side, they are not advised for long-term use and frequently have side effects that range from mildly bothersome to downright lethal. When it comes to psychological intervention, many treatments can be both time- and cost-intensive.
Given this, many researchers have looked for alternative solutions to treat depression naturally. Of the many therapies studied, one stands out as effective, inexpensive, and easy to implement: exercise.
Exercise is a Natural Depression Treatment
Several studies have shown a positive relationship between exercise and improvement in depression symptoms. The studies have varied in terms of types of exercise, intensity, indoor versus outdoor, and monitored versus self-reported.
To help cut through the clutter, researchers from the United Kingdom set out to determine if walking in particular could alleviate depression. They chose walking because people of virtually any age and physical endurance level can implement a walking program.
Researchers combed the literature for any studies that had been done on walking, be it indoors, outdoors, alone, or in a group. Specifically, they chose those studies that were randomized, controlled, and performed on adults aged 18 or older who had depression and utilized walking as part of the intervention treatment.
After an exhaustive search of more than 100 studies, researchers focused on eight that fully met their criteria. These studies included a total of 341 people aged 20 to 73. The participants ranged from students and postpartum women to seniors and people under hospital care.
The frequency of walking in these studies ranged from twice a week to daily, while the study periods lasted between 6.2 days and six months, and walking times ranged from 20 minutes a session to 50 minutes.
Of the eight studies researchers focused on, four found that walking significantly reduced depression symptoms.
Therefore, after carefully evaluating all factors of the eight chosen studies in the meta-analysis, researchers concluded, “Walking has the potential to produce an effect in reducing symptoms of depression comparable to other forms of physical activity.”
They go on to state that walking appears to be beneficial to a wide range of ages, and that neither intensity nor duration seem to be indicative of success. Similarly, indoor and outdoor walking were equally effective.
Walk It Out
What I love most about this study is the ease of implementation. Walking is something that most people are able to incorporate into their life, regardless of time issues, age, cost or location.
Whether you suffer from depression of any kind or simply want a way to calm your mind and lift your spirits, walking is the name of the game. Start off with just 20 minutes a day at least five days a week.
 Robertson R et al. Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: a systemic review and meta-analysis. Mental Health and Physical Activity. 2012 March 20. [Epub ahead of print.]