DEAR JIM: I’m 71, and I have suffered several personal losses in the past year that have sent me into a terrible state of depression, and I can’t seem to shake it. I lost my husband, my mother, and my sister all in the same year. It seems like the whole world has fallen down around me. My doctor has prescribed anti-depressants, but they only seem to make me drowsy. I used to be very active, but I can’t seem to get myself going again. What can I do? DEPRESSED IN DUBUQUE
DEAR DEPRESSED: It probably seems too simplistic, and maybe it isn’t what you want to hear, but the very best thing I can suggest is to walk. That’s right – just head out the front door and start walking. Around the block, to the grocery store, to a friend’s house, to the park, in the woods – anywhere. Just get out of the house. Preferably with a friend or group of friends.
I’ve written about this before, but walking, and exercise in general, has long been accepted as a substitute for anti-depressants for treating mild or even moderate depression – especially for those who need, or want, to avoid taking drugs, and it can play an important supporting role in treating severe depression. The hardest part? Finding the motivation to do it even though you really don’t feel like it
The results of new study posted today and appearing in a special issue of Ecopsychology seems to support previous research.
“Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise,” according to Sara Warber, M.D., author of the study conducted by the University of Michigan, with partners from De Montfort University, James Hutton Institute, and Edge Hill University in the United Kingdom, “and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”
The study involved 1,991 participants from the Walking for Health program in England, which helps facilitate nearly 3,000 weekly walks and draws more than 70,000 regular walkers a year. “We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says Warber.
You probably don’t care about all of the research on this, but the bottom line is that walking really works. Unfortunately, you can’t just shake off your blues, but a brisk walk in the outdoors with a friend or group of friends can go a long way to restore a sense of well-being and help you to cope with your losses. Just take that first step. Please.