Everyone knows that exercise can boost your mood, but can something as simple as walking help alleviate feelings of depression? A recent review of published clinical studies says it can.
Investigators in Scotland pored through 11 databases that included more than 14,000 journal articles on walking to find randomized controlled trials that looked at walking's effects on mild to moderate depression. They found eight small studies with a total of 341 patients that met their criteria.
Some of the studies compared walking—either indoors or outdoors—with no treatment, while others compared it with a standard treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Studies that included walking with other forms of exercises were excluded.
When the researchers pooled the studies' results, they found that walking alleviated the symptoms of depression, and it did so just as effectively as more vigorous types of exercise.
The analysis was published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.
"This work reinforces what has been known for a while about exercise and depression: that any exercise is better than no exercise," says Michael Miller, MD, a psychiatrist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Editor in Chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "It seems to improve mood and sense of well-being and has many other important positive health effects. In that sense it is the best medicine any of us has, with the fewest side effects," he adds.
It's not clear why walking would be just as effective as more strenuous exercise at combating depression. "Probably with low intensity exercise like walking, people aren't getting an endorphin effect," says Dr. Miller. But he notes that exercise also boosts nerve cell growth and development and affects the part of the brain that helps regulate mood.
According to the authors, more research is needed before the results can be applied to the general public because the studies were so different and included specific groups of people.
Also, information is lacking on how often, how fast, and how long walks should be. People in these studies walked from 20 to 50 minutes and from three to seven times a week. Some of the people walked on treadmills, while others headed outdoors. Some joined walking groups, while others walked alone.
Even without extra research, though, the results suggest that walking may be a promising, simple, and natural way to fight the blues and feel better mentally.
It's also an activity that most people can easily fit into their schedules—by getting off the subway a stop early or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
"You don't have to carve large swaths of time out of your week, buy fancy equipment, or spend money on a gym membership. The key is to start slow, with a routine you feel you can continue," says Dr. Miller. "You may find that, after doing it for a few weeks, it gets easier to keep it going. You may even enjoy it."
One in 10 people may have depression at some point in their lives.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted May 2012
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