Depression–it can sneak up on anyone.
While clinical depression is a serious condition that requires prescription medication, there is one simple tactic that anyone can do to lift their spirits when struggling with depression, even an older adult with mobility or transportation issues.
And, if taken to a deeper level, it can be life-changing.
So what is it? Walking.
Don’t underestimate its health impact. Whether it’s a 30-minute walk for someone who is normally sedentary, or going to the end of the street and back using a walker, pushing yourself to walk more than usual and getting outdoors can lift your spirits. It also does your body a world of good physically.
Called ecotherapy, the impact is even stronger when walking in nature. It changes the brain even more than walking at home by quieting the chaos. Don’t miss this New York Times article, it’s fascinating!
Everyone can benefit from a regular morning (or evening!) walk.
According to Rhonda Zonoozi, exercise physiologist and certified health coach at the Sun Health Center for Health and Wellbeing, you can walk your way to happiness, because it lifts your mood and reduces stress by releasing “happy hormones.”
In a survey of 1,750 physicians, more than 85 percent of them reported they prescribe regular exercise like walking for treating depression and anxiety. In one university research study, over 90 percent of those assigned to an exercise program were no longer depressed. It was more effective than counseling, as half of the patients in the contrasting psychotherapy group ended up returning for added treatment.
In other studies, evidence showed exercise can provide benefits at levels similar to antidepressant medication. That’s astounding!
At least thirty minutes of exercise a minimum of three days per week is most beneficial, but even small amounts of walking for as little as ten minutes each time can make a difference… with benefits improving over time.
Learn more about the health benefits of walking here.
So why is walking helpful in treatment and even prevention? Perhaps due to the sense of power and control it gives the participant, along with measurable changes. It releases endorphins and other natural chemicals to lift our sense of well-being, and is a distraction from stressors. Plus, since vigorous levels aren’t required and even moderate walking can have a powerful impact on mood, it’s easily achieved.
The goal is to push yourself beyond what you would normally do, though, so that your pace consistently becomes a bit more brisk and the distance longer.
Ideas to get started
To start off the new habit, these ideas might help you get into the swing of things:
- Keep your walking shoes by the front door
- Talk to family and friends to build a sense of accountability
- Join a walking group or meetup
- Make plans for regular walks with a friend or neighbor
- Schedule reminders on your phone
- Adopt a dog that needs regular exercise
- Find healthy incentives to keep motivated
No matter how you choose to walk, where and how long, it’s a wonderful habit. And for those already on medication, it’s the perfect add-on for even more improvement.
Best of all, it requires no equipment, no gym membership and is free!
Interested in learning how a health coach can support your goals to make them become reality, or motivate you with healthy new habits? The Center for Health and Wellbeing offers support services in three West Valley locations, plus an assortment of free and low-cost resources. Learn more here.
This information is provided by health professionals from the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing. It should not be substituted for medical advice from your physician.
(Originally published Dec. 1, 2017; last updated Jan. 6, 2019.)