Walking Exercise to Fight Depression

Walking Exercise to Fight Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders of the 21st century. There’s no point in denying that, from time to time, it can affect almost everyone, regardless of the age, gender, place of birth or social status. Fighting depression is not easy. In fact, it can be extremely challenging. But it’s achievable. There are several things you can do to chase away the blues without resorting to therapy or medication.

One of the all-natural methods to overcome negative thoughts and feelings is to exercise. Yes, that’s right: you can exercise to reduce depression. You don’t need to go to the gym, lift weights or engage in HIIT workouts. A simple (but regular) walk can do the trick. Keep on reading to see how such a simple workout can effectively help you alleviate symptoms of depression.

How Does Walking Influence Depression

Walking is a recommended physical activity when you’re feeling overwhelmed by sadness. Why? Well, because during a walk you release endorphins. What are endorphins? According to the medical definition provided by Oxford Languages, these are “peptides which activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.” Simply put, endorphins are hormones released by our body to help us cope with pain. They are known as the “feel-good” brain chemicals or the natural antidepressants. The more we walk, the more endorphins we release. The more endorphins we release, the better we feel emotionally.

Walking does have other positive aspects for your mental wellbeing. Going for a stroll can help you take your mind off things and give you the chance to focus on something else, even if it’s temporary. A stroll through the park can turn out to be an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Paying attention to the colors, the sounds and the nature that is surrounding you can provide a much-needed sense of calm and peace.

The Scientific Proof

The relationship between walking and depression has been the subject of scientific analysis over the past decades. There are many studies that have found a direct link between the two.

121 women, aged 57-75, participated in a 2014-program conducted by French professors from the University of Montpellier. The participants were divided into two groups: a control, inactive group and another group that took part in a six-month, moderate-intensity walking intervention (3 times a week, 40 minutes per session). The scientists measured the depression levels for each before and at the end of the trial. The final results showed that the walking group manifested a substantial reduction in depression in comparison to the control group.

A 10-year cohort study examined the relationship between depressive symptoms and diverse doses of moderate to vigorous physical activity among adults over 50 years. Professors from the University of Limerick, Ireland gathered and analyzed data from 4,016 individuals at five time spans between October 2009 to December 2018. Each time participants provided reports on their physical activity, the length and intensity for the previous week. After examining the results, Irish scientists concluded that an activity equivalent to a 20-minute brisk walk, 5 times a week can significantly lower depression. More precisely, adults who performed moderate to vigorous physical activity had a 16% lower risk of depressive symptoms and 43% lower odds of depression in comparison to those who didn’t exercise at all.

A 2022 meta-analysis evaluated 15 prospective studies, comprising 191,130 participants, to see which is the necessary dose of exercise to reduce depression. The results showed that individuals who engaged in physical activities equivalent to 75 minutes of brisk walking per week had an 18% lower risk of depression in comparison to inactive adults. Those who managed to squeeze in 150 minutes of exercise per week had a 25% lower risk of depression.

Does Intensity Make a Difference?

Walking Exercise to Fight Depression

We’ve seen that walking is beneficial to our mental health. But does the pace matter? Does fast walking bring more benefits than slow walking? A research, carried out by professors from the University of Hong Kong, designed a walking program to find an answer to this question.

Individuals over 50 years old diagnosed with depression were randomly assigned to three different groups: a control group which was instructed to maintain daily life routines, a moderate-intensity walking group and a vigorous-intensity walking group. The program lasted for 12 weeks, with walking sessions three times a week. After analyzing the data, researchers discovered that the depression levels were considerably lower in the two walking groups compared to the control group. A similar result was found in terms of anxiety levels.

But which were the results of the two active groups? Was one more efficient than the other in reducing depression? The answer is rather no. The moderate-intensity walking group had a 43.9% reduction in depression score, while the vigorous-intensity walking group had a 43.2% decrease. So the difference between the two was rather negligible.

Does the Environment Count?

Going for a walk can help us overcome negative feelings. But does it matter where we go for that walk? Professors from the University of South Australia, Adelaide and UNSW, Sydney aimed to evaluate if there’s an association between the walking environment and depression levels.

The Australian researchers conducted a controlled study which involved 47 adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder. The participants were randomized to a 60-minute supervised walk in either a natural setting or along a busy road. Their state of mind was evaluated pre, during and immediately after the walk. The findings showed that those who walked in a natural environment had a higher reduction in depression in comparison with those who walked in an urban setting.

Why Keep Track of Your Walks

Going for a regular walk is truly important if you want to prevent and reduce symptoms of depression. It’s also important to start monitoring your walking exercise. This can help you see exactly how much you’re walking and if you’re meeting the recommended guidelines. At the same time, it can help you build self-confidence and remain motivated to work out. Reaching your fitness goals, even if they’re not spectacular at the beginning, will provide a sense of achievement and most surely improve your mood.

How to Track Your Walking Activity

In order to monitor your walks you may think you need a dedicated fitness tracker. Well, it’s not the case. There’s no need to spend money on another gadget when you can simply use your iPhone or Android phone. All you have to do is download a pedometer app like our very own ActivityTracker and you’re all set. The app will automatically record your movement and provide info regarding your step count, the distance, calories burned or active time. You’ll be able to set your own goal for the fitness metric that’s most relevant to your necessities and monitor your progress thoroughly for each hour, day, week, month or year.