Walking and Moderate Exercise Boost Your Mental and Physical Health
“Thoughts come clearly while one walks.” – Thomas Mann
Walking is an easy form of exercise that provides a long list of benefits for improved mental and physical health. It is also free, which adds to its immense appeal. You can walk anywhere at almost any time, indoors or out, by yourself or with others. Yet, how often do we recognize the incredible value of the simple act of walking? Even if we do give it some thought now and then, it might be worthwhile becoming familiar with research on how walking and moderate exercise boost your mental and physical health.
Go Aerobic for Antidepressant Effects
A 2018 review published in Depression and Anxiety found benefits from aerobic exercise for clinically depressed adult patients. The meta-analysis compared aerobic exercise versus nonexercised comparators. Aerobic exercise in various studies included running on a sport track, stretching and running in place, brisk walking/jogging, cardio fitness machine, cycling/treadmill. Study findings showed a “significant large overall antidepressant effect” on adult patients recruited via mental health services with either a referral or clinical diagnosis of major depression. Also, subgroup analyses found that aerobic exercise brought about large or moderate to large depression improvement in many different delivery formats: equipment-based or equipment-free modalities, outpatient or inpatient cohorts, in or outside a hospital setting, indoors or outdoors, and individually or in groups. Researchers concluded that aerobic exercise is an effective antidepressant intervention.
Aerobic Exercise Can Be Beneficial in Cocaine Addiction Treatment
Cocaine addiction is characterized by cycles of relapse and recovery, with negative emotions and stress that often occur during withdrawal a key factor in relapse. Researchers at the University at Buffalo in a 2018 study using animal models found that regular aerobic exercise (5 days/week, 1 hour at a time) decreased cocaine-seeking behavior induced by stress. Exercise can alter the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine pathway (linked to the reward/reinforcing properties of addictive drugs like cocaine), as well as reduce stress and elevate mood – both key in reducing anxiety and negative emotions during withdrawal. The research team concluded that aerobic exercise could be an effective part of cocaine relapse prevention program, and said further research is necessary to see if the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise hold true for other addictive drugs. Findings were published in Behavioral Brain Research.
Physical Activity Protects Against Depression
In a report published in JAMA Psychiatry, a team of investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital found evidence to strongly support physical activity as a preventive measure against depression. Researchers said that doing more of any physical activity is better than none, suggesting that their rough calculations indicated replacing sitting for 15 minutes with running or an hour of moderately vigorous activity was enough to show an average increase in accelerometer data linked to a lower risk for depression. They said their findings support the hypothesis that engaging in enhanced physical activity may serve as effective prevention strategy for depression.