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Researchers consider impact of walking on fighting depression

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Students walking on campus
Students walking on campus

Walking could play an important role in fighting depression, according to health researchers at The University of Stirling and The University of Edinburgh.

Physical exercise is recommended as a treatment option for people with mild depression, which affects as many as one in 10 British adults at some point during their lives.

However, the effects of basic activities such as walking remained unclear and was the subject of a review of studies, published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity.

The researchers identified and analysed data from eight studies considering the impact of walking interventions on a total of 341 patients.

The study was led by PhD student Roma Robertson of The University of Stirling and Dr Ann Robertson of the Centre for Population Health Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, working with colleagues from Stirling’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health.

Roma Robertson said: “We found that walking has a statistically significant, large effect on the symptoms of depression in some populations and is as effective as other forms of physical activity.

“There has been a big movement towards encouraging people to walk for physical health reasons, but this study recognises its role in mental health and highlights a widely acceptable and safe treatment option.

“There are some good examples already of community-based walking programmes such as CHANGES in East Lothian. People working in primary care have a limited range of options as to what they can offer people with depression and treatments such as anti-depressants aren’t always effective and come with potential side-effects.”

The next stage would be to identify how long, how fast and how often to walk for depression, and whether walking indoors or outdoors, or in a group, is more helpful.

Roma added: “Further investigation is required as there are many variables and it is a difficult group to study. This study gives us a better understanding of the potential impact walking can have upon depression.”

Dr Ruth Jepson, Co-Director Centre for Public Health and Population Health, University of Stirling added: “This research is one of a number of key studies at the University around outdoor physical activity and health.

“Other examples by our researchers in the Centre for Public Health and Population Health Research and Sports Sciences include looking at the effects of outdoor activity on health and mental wellbeing such as buggy walking for post natal mums, green gyms, health walks and community gardens.” 

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