A scientific report published last week by the University of Stirling revealed that walking has a significant effect on the symptoms of depression and may in future play an important role in the treatment of mental health issues. The research team looked at the findings of eight scientific studies, with data from 341 patients, and found that statistically it had a large and positive effect.
You don’t have to be depressed to notice the change walking can make on your mood. After returning from a walk you weren’t particularly keen to make, haven’t you sometimes thought, ‘I’m glad I did that’?
Whether you’re bored, frustrated, down in the dumps or just sick of the same old same old, a good walk works miracles on your mindset.
For those who do suffer from depression, however mild, the advantages of walking are obvious. Unlike many anti-depressants, it has minimal side effects, and, as Professor Adrian Taylor, who studies depression, told the BBC, everyone does it. It also has the bonus of keeping us physically healthy.
Research has shown that unless we can build our fitness regime into our daily routine, we haven’t a hope in hell of keeping it up. Which is why walking is such a good bet. We all need to get from A to B, we don’t have to shell out a penny on expensive kit to get started and we can schedule it in whenever it suits us.
Sir Muir Gray, who started the Campaign for Walking, believes that if we walked an extra 3,000 steps a day we would be fitter, healthier and happier (and better off financially too, say I). Several bouts of brisk walking a day are as good as a single, long walk and, unlike most other forms of exercise, you can multitask while doing it.
The good knight suggests walking to the train station or getting off the bus two stops before the office and using the time en route to make phone calls, work or personal. Instead of doing business over coffee, he advocates walking meetings instead. If you often stay at your desk with a sandwich at lunchtime, you could start a lunchtime walking group. Not only will it break up the day, it will help you avoid the mid-afternoon slump.
If you’d like to have some company on your walks, the Ramblers is a great way to meet walking companions. You are more likely to maintain the habit if you have arranged to walk with other people and, of course, company is a great antidote to low mood.
As a meditation, walking is an effective way of reducing stress. Sitting still is not the only way to meditate. Meditation means being mindful and fully present in the moment: take in your surroundings, be aware of the weather, notice how your foot makes contact with the ground. If your mind wanders to other things, re-focus fully on your breathing and movement.
Walking lowers blood pressure, boosts energy levels and reduces the risk of many ailments including arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Walking for half an hour five times a week may help weight loss. All these things we know, and yet we still fail to recognise the benefits. But now we know how good walking is for our mental wellbeing, they are impossible to ignore.