Walking off Depression

Boy, do I love to walk. More specifically, I love to walk along the beach. Long time readers may recall, at one point that I walked on the beach strand nearly every day. Rarely did a day go by that I hoofed it less than five miles. It was instrumental in helping me lose ninety pounds. We all heard many times that exercise helps increase endorphins which may relieve depression. Now a study by The University of Michigan (U-M), with partners from De Montfort University, James Hutton Institute, and Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom shows that group nature walks are linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. It does a body good.

People who had recently experienced stressful life events like a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation or unemployment especially saw a mood boost after outdoor group walks.

We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,

says senior author Sara Warber, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School.

Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.

Researchers evaluated 1,991 participants from the Walking for Health program in England. Warber continued by saying,

Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being. Group walks in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions.

I haven’t been walking nearly as much as I use to and, unfortunately, it shows both physically and mentally. Looking back at older posts it looks to me like my depressive states started happening more frequently about the same time I stopped walking as much. It could be coincidental, but maybe not.

We know the real challenge here. Exercise helps reduce depression, yet, how do you get motivated to exercise when you’re depressed? I guess in a strange way it’s one of the benefits of being bipolar – the depression doesn’t last forever. Take advantage and exercise at those times I’m balanced or manic and I’ll help ward off those depressive times. Oh, they’ll be back, but maybe, just maybe, not as hard or as long.

16 comments on Walking off Depression

  1. Great post. I fondly remember walking on the beach and The Strand. Bike riding is fun, too. I remember many a ride from Hermosa to Marina del Rey. On my first date with my husband we rode from north Hermosa to Playa del Rey. Exercising at the beach is truly relaxing. Taking in the sea air and beautiful scenery is enjoyable. Too bad the Chevron refinery and Edision power plant share the coast. Hyperion, at least, has cleaned up their act over the years. One of my best friends helped to design their improvements.

    Thank you for the timely reminder. I MUST get out and walk more often. Now I live in suburban Mission Viejo, and I usually feel like I should take our two dogs with me. The dogs love going on walks, but then it is anything but relaxing, for they are overexcited and poor socialized dogs. Joining a walking Meetup group is a wonderful idea, though. I just may do so.

    1. Glad I brought back those fond memories, Kitt. I haven’t joined a walking group, but at one point I had nearly a different walking partner for each day a week. That fell apart when I stopped walking much. I’m sporadic now, so I walk alone, but still enjoy it.

  2. I love to walk too. And part of my early childhood was in Santa Cruz and so I spent a lot of time on the beach. So I felt a little envious when you mentioned walks on the beach. I sure miss it.
    It is challenging to get into an exercise routine. Doing it with another person has been really helpful for me. After doing daily walks with my husband for years I can now do it by myself too when he can’t.

    Even though I still suffer with depression AND I walk most every day, I believe that things would be far worse if I didn’t walk at all.

    1. I still have nearly an impossible time trying to walk when I’m depressed, but I’m working on it.

  3. I often wonder if I had better scenery or paths, would I walk more? It’s hard to say, but I would think it would help at least motivate me to get out there. The walking part is pure determination.

    1. Better scenery makes a big difference to me, Rose. I don’t do nearly as well when I walk around the neighborhood.

  4. Walking definitely helps depression, Bradley. It doesn’t always make it go away (I’ve done five-mile walks crying the entire distance) but I’ve always felt a sense of accomplishment, and for a depressive, that is a good thing 🙂

    1. Depressed, crying and walking five miles?! That’s impressive. I don’t think I had that much determination, but I’ve been close. Thank you, Mandy, for the inspiration

  5. It wasn’t pretty, Bradley. Lol. But I didn’t trust myself to stop moving. Raising the serotonin levels was critical. It really helped me to learn to listen to books on tape while I walked to distract my thoughts. I got hooked on the book “Walk Across America” (I think it was 27 tapes) and couldn’t wait for my walks!

    1. Mandy, you’re a genius. I can’t believe I never thought of books on tape. What a great idea.

  6. This is totally my train of thought! I have walked my family dog or the new puppy for mindfulness and calm as well as for the physical benefits. To me, there’s nothing better than rain in my face and a happy dog frolicking around the field. x

    1. I’m glad you mentioned mindfulness. I conducted an hour long interview with a mindfulness teacher yesterday and will be posting about mindfulness soon. I don’t know if I’m going to post one very long article (not like me) or a series of articles over a few days (what I normally do.) It should be interesting though.

  7. I walk every day. Sometimes that’s very difficult to maintain the motivation but having a dog does help. If I didn’t walk him, he’d be hyper all day long, so it’s easier to drag myself to the park.

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