One in ten people in the United States fights some form of depression or anxiety.
What if I said that the funk you are in or the depression meds you are taking can be eliminated by walking? A study published in Mental Health and Physical Activity has found that walking may be just as effective at alleviating depression as medication.
Don't believe me? A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry followed around 22,000 adults for more than a decade. They compared the rates of depression among those who never exercised and those who exercised more than four hours per week.
The group who did not get exercise were 44% more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who exercised at least one hour per week. One hour.
Numerous other studies show that exercise could ease your depression and could be as effective as antidepressant medications.
While everyone can have a single bout of some major depression, some of us have recurring episodes. Depression that lasts for two years or more is classified as persistent depressive disorder.
Another type of depression is called bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive illness. People who suffer from this alternate from extreme happiness highs and quickly drops into an even worse depression.
Here are some alarming statistics:
- 350 Million people worldwide suffer from depression.
- 16 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012.
Emotional Symptoms of Depression
Feelings of sadness, loneliness, or emptiness that don't go away within a few weeks could be a sign you have depression. Other Symptoms Include:
- Extreme irritability over minor things
- Inability to control anger
- Favorite activities are no longer interesting
- Focusing on past events or things that have gone wrong
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
Physical Symptoms of Depression
Depression also manifests in some (but not limited to) physical symptoms. Some of these include:
- Sleeping too much
- Having insomnia
- Debilitating fatigue or tiredness
- Increased appetite
- Decreased appetite
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Aches and pains that are unexplained
Causes and Risk Factors of Depression
We haven't been able to pinpoint a single cause of depression; our brain chemistry, hormones, and genetics all play a role. Some other depression risk factors also include:
- Having low self-esteem
- Having an anxiety disorder, personality disorder, or PTSD
- Experiencing physical or sexual abuse
- Chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis, cancer, or diabetes
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Some prescription medications
- Having a family history of depression
Aerobic Exercise vs. Antidepressants
One study has found that a depressed adult that engages in aerobic exercise showed mood improvements similar to depressed adults who took Zoloft.
In another study, 30% of adults did not show improvements by taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They then went into remission after participating in an exercise program for 12 weeks.
If you don't like being chained to your medications, there is an option. So get up and move.
Find Your Motivation
Trust me, I know what it's like to not want to be out in public, can't ever find the "perfect time" to exercise, and looking for every excuse not to exercise. It sucks.
Finding motivation to get up and move is hard. A study in 2017 published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry found that 80% of people who received treatment at a medical health clinic believe exercise improved their mood.
More than half admitted that their mood impaired their ability to simply lace up their sneakers to go for a walk.
Between the low energy, lack of interest, and general hate of life (I get it), it's hard to want to get up and engage in physical activity.
If you tell yourself that you just need to lace up your running shoes and go out to your driveway - you can either consider it a win and go back inside if you don't want to work out, or you will feel compelled to walk.
Considering lacing up and going outside as a win gives you a win just for doing the hard part - getting started.
A Walk a Day Has More Benefits
Being able to stick to walking at least 30 minutes a day have more benefits than just affecting your mood. Some of These Benefits Include:
Goals Will Start to Seem Achievable
Creating the habit of walking every day and sticking to that routine makes continuing that activity easier. In fact, you'll feel so much better that other healthy behaviors will be on your radar.
Setting your mind to walking for 30 minutes a day shows you that you can do anything you put your mind to. Use this new-found confidence to accomplish other goals in your life.
Your Bowel Health Will Improve
One of the least glamorous benefits, walking improves your gastric mobility. If you thank your morning coffee for your morning constitutional, you will start thanking walking instead.
Walking utilizes your core and abdominal muscles, which encourages movement in our GI system. In fact, one of the first things an abdominal surgery patient is required to do is walk.
Your Legs Will Look Great
Varicose veins and other unsightly lines in your legs, daily walking can ease related swelling and restlessness in your legs.
The venous system includes a circulatory section known as "the second heart." This system is formed by muscles, veins, and vales located in our calves and feet. This system works by pushing blood back up to your heart and lungs.
Walking strengthens and preserves leg muscles, and boost healthy blood flow. If you fight with poor circulation in your legs, implementing a daily walking routine can help.
Your Risk of Chronic Disease Goes Down
The American Diabetes Association associates walking with lowering your blood sugar levels and overall risk of diabetes.
The researchers out at the University of Boulder Colorado and at the University of Tennessee found that regular walking lowered your blood pressure by as much as 11 points and reduce the risk of stroke by 20% to 40%.
A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that people who walked enough to meet physical activity guidelines had a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who did not regularly walk.
Physical Activity Guidelines - 30 or more minutes of moderate activity for 5 or more days per week.
As you see, it doesn't take that much time out of your day to improve your health and drastically improve your quality of life.
Walking Burns Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is the fat stored around your organs in your midsection.
Having high visceral fat levels puts yourself at a high risk for many diseases including fatty liver disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Your Creative Juices Will Flow
Whether you are a writer or just need to come up with ways to solve problems, research shows that walking can spark creativity.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning, Memory, and Cognition administered creative-thinking tests to subjects while seated and while walking around.
The experiment showed that the subjects who were walking thought more creatively than the people who were sitting.
Wrapping It Up
None of this information is going to help you unless you put in the work. It doesn't take specific calculations to benefit from walking.
I know what you're thinking... "How far should I go?" What about, "How fast should I be walking?"
If achieving the full benefits of walking is your goal, you'll have to push yourself a little bit. But don't fret, simply getting up and moving will make a huge difference.
Further research is still needed to find what works best in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration, and we know that this may not transfer to the general population.
Getting off of your butt and moving around will help ease your anxiety and depression. Walking isn't the only exercise that helps fight depression.
In fact, here are a few ideas to try:
- Take a friend or three to an aerobics class
- Take up golfing
- Play tennis
- Shoot some hoops
- Ride a bicycle
- Circuit training
The activities above are more moderate exercise, and people who averaged 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise felt better emotionally, they had more energy, socialized more, and they weren't limited by their depression.
If you want to stick to walking, 200 minutes of walking every week are enough to ditch those depression meds.