Walking for anxiety and depression

In October, after making a career change I had to downsize my lifestyle and ended up selling my car. Since then I’ve had to become reacquainted with the oldest form of transportation available … walking! I never realised how ridiculously lazy and reliant I had become on my car. Walking to the shops a block away felt like a long, arduous journey if the option of driving was available.

In many ways I’m glad for the change, despite having less freedom. Thinking about the amount of walking I’ve been doing lately reminded me of some of the information I’ve come across during my health research, as well as some of my past experience of the wonderful effects of this simple exercise with regards to anxiety, depression and mood.

In our society we are mainly exposed to two camps with regards to exercise. First there are the gym-rats that think one should be spending many hours in the gym and then there are the completely sedentary folks that think walking to the fridge for a beer is a form of exercise! During a session of cranial sacral therapy (a post coming up on this later) a few weeks ago my therapist told me that all the healthy 80 and 90 year olds that he knows walk for their exercise! None of them do intense running of weight lifting and none of them are completely sedentary. Now, I’m not saying that things like weight lifting (which I love) or running don’t have their place, but the evidence clearly points to their being something very special about walking in particular as a form of exercise.

In the book “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner he says the following “Longevity all-stars don’t run marathons or compete in triathlons; they don’t transform themselves into weekend warriors on Saturday morning. Instead, they engage in regular, low-intensity physical activity, often as part of a daily work routine. Male centenarians in Sardinia’s Blue Zone worked most of their lives as shepherds, a profession that involved miles of hiking every day … Adventists take nature walks.” This says a lot for the health benefits of walking!  Most healthy centenarians have a very good, anxiety and depression free demeanor. If a healthy centenarian tells me that walking is the way to go, I think it’s wise to listen!

If you ever experience a panic attack or are going through a bout of anxiety then going for a short (or long) walk is one of the best things that you can do, even if you don’t feel like it at the time. The adrenaline that goes with panic or anxiety is basically sending a signal to your body to flee to safety or to fight your enemy. Your muscles become energised and need to be used. If you don’t use up this extra energy, you will continue to feel hyped up, wired and anxious. Going walking is a great way to get rid of some of that excess energy and adrenaline. A change of scenery by getting outdoors to walk also causes a change in thinking, making you more present and aware of the moment, rather than worried about the past or future. The fresh oxygen you breathe in while you’re walking outside reduces the lactic acid build up associated with anxiety and panic attacks, helping calm you down. After your walk you’ll probably have forgotten what you were so worried about in the first place!

I’ve gone walking at pretty much all times of the day and night to help rid myself of extra adrenaline. I’ll never forget one time in 2010 when I was going through a particularly difficult patch of anxiety, which had culminated in a panic attack. I felt overwhelmed, but my partner forced me to go for a walk and get some fresh air. I felt so profoundly different after 60 minutes of fairly brisk walking, I remember thinking “damn girl, you were right!”. Ever since then I know that if I’m experiencing some anxiety, then a walk will sort me out!

For those of you who are depressed, walking is also a great form of exercise, but it can take a few weeks of consistent walking, multiple times per week for the full effects to be seen. When you walk regularly your body re-balances its various mood boosting chemicals, and helps your body cope with stress. There’s a book I’ve heard great things about called “Walking your blues away” that has received some major positive reviews. http://www.amazon.com/Walking-Your-Blues-Away-Well-Being/dp/1594771448. I can defnitely relate, since during one of the deepest depressive times I experienced I literally walked my way back to happiness. I walked with different friends every single day for nearly 2 months for about 30-90 minutes in nature on or around Table Mountain. The consistent walking made an unbelievably huge difference in my mood and well being! I still enjoy nature walks as often as I can, and nearly always feel revitalised afterwards. I actually crave it at certain times.

Tomorrow I’ll be blogging about some of the other health benefits of walking, along with some tips and tricks with regards to how to go about how to get started for those that don’t know.

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  1. Pingback: Sleep and circadian rhythms | Living Without Fear

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