Walking isn’t a cure-all, but it might keep us whole
There is something about the weight of depression. It’s a unique force, psychologically akin to gravity. Depression can hit hard, sandbagging like grief. It settles into the entire body, pressing us into inertia, into a space where movement feels impossible. A room becomes an entire world. A chair becomes an extension of our weighty, immobile body. A walk outside? Impossible.
And yet getting myself to walk, even to step outside, is almost the only thing that has ever helped when I feel depression blanketing itself around my being. It doesn’t make the depression go away and it doesn’t cure it. But it does stop it from what I think of as “gelling” in my body. It keeps the depression from taking hold for long periods of time. If I can get myself to walk, then I can get myself to drink water, to watch a show, maybe even to smile if not to laugh.
A number of studies have affirmed walking’s ability to alleviate the symptoms of depression. An Australian study involving nearly 2,000 women found that 200 minutes of walking per week (just half an hour a day) noticeably eased the symptoms of depression:
“In 2001, all of them had reported at least 10 depressive symptoms, indicating mild to moderate depression.
But over time, their physical health, mental health, pain, physical functioning, vitality, and social functioning all improved when they did 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 200 minutes of walking in an average week.”
A meta-analysis of several similar trials found that “walking has a statistically significant, large effect on symptoms of depression.” Given the clear evidence that walking helps, the authors urged more research to help doctors make walking recommendations more specific and appropriate for particular groups, especially children.
As research into non-medical treatments for depression expands, walking comes up frequently as a simple, low-barrier answer to maintaining some kind of mind-body balance. This has been my own experience: getting myself to step outside, to walk, is all that has ever worked to keep the tide of depression at bay.
It is hard, though. Those first steps feel like moving against a strong current or…