Bonnie Carroll: Take A Mental Health Hike And Walk Your Worries Away – May 19, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

In our community and in our culture, many people want to medicate depression with a pill, a drink or a smoke.  But if you’re one of the many who are looking for a healthier alternative for fighting the blues, you may be interested to find out that study after study has found that exercise is actually an effective tool for reducing mild to moderate depression and can play a significant role in treating major depression.  So take a hike and feel better.

Exercise is actually one of those great cure-alls.  It helps improve your physical health, reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improves your mood.  The general guideline is ½ hour to an hour of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, most or all days of the week.

Exercise releases brain chemicals that help ease depression by enhancing neurotransmitters and releasing endorphins.  It doesn’t seem to matter what type of exercise you do, just as long as you’re moving your body.

But I want to caution anxious exercisers that it seems to make a difference where you choose to do your work out. In a study at Britain’s Essex University researchers asked 20 depressed people to take a 30 minute walk.  Some of the people were asked to walk in a wooded park and others in an indoor shopping center. After the walk in the wooded area, 71 percent said they felt less depressed, and 90 percent said it made them feel better about themselves. However, after the shopping center walk, only 45 percent felt less depressed, 22 percent said they felt more depressed, and 44 percent said their self-esteem had fallen (sorry, Bayshore).

In another study researchers compared the effectiveness of taking anti-depressants to exercise for treating depression.  The researchers divided 156 men and women with depression into three groups. One group took part in an aerobic exercise program, another took an anti-depressant, and a third did both. At the 16-week mark, depression had eased in all three groups. About 60 to 70 percent of the people in all three groups could no longer be classed as having major depression, although the report did indicate that the group that felt better the fastest did take the antidepressants, and that it can be difficult to stay motivated to exercise when you’re depressed.

Researchers checked in with 133 of the original patients six months after the study ended and found that the people who exercised on a regular basis after completing the study, regardless of which treatment they were in originally, were less likely to relapse into depression.

Many studies have also shown the positive impact that social interaction has on improving your physical health, mental health, and general overall sense of well being.

Therefore, for the best results, gather a few of your friends a few times a week and head out to one of our many beautiful hiking trails or parks and enjoy a nice long walk together, all the while improving your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

If you have any questions or dilemmas in your life, feel free to send them in and I’ll try to share my thoughts about them.

Bonnie Carroll is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a counseling practice in McKinleyville.  Contact her directly at

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