Walking is effective in helping to decrease depressive symptoms, according to a new review of studies.
Research published in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity shows that "walking has a statistically significant, large effect on the symptoms of depression in some populations."
The review showed that walking works as well as other kinds of exercise in helping lower depressive symptoms.
The review included eight studies, evaluating a total of 341 people, which all showed that walking is able to lessen symptoms of depression. But the researchers cautioned that the ways the studies were conducted -- like how long the people walked, at what pace, and how often -- were different from study to study, so more research is needed to find what is the most effective.
"The beauty of walking is that everybody does it," Adrian Taylor, a professor at the University of Exeter who studies depression, addiction and stress, told BBC News.
The Mayo Clinic explained that exercise may help fight depression by prompting the release of chemicals in the brain that are linked with feeling happy, and could also help to calm the body by raising body temperature. It could also help by serving as a distraction, boosting confidence and social interaction, and serving as a "substitute" for more unhealthy coping practices like drinking alcohol.
For more great health benefits of walking, click through the slideshow:
If you're prone to being obese, spending just one hour going for a brisk walk may reduce your genetic influence by half. That's the finding from a Harvard School of Public Health Study <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/walking-obesity-genetic_n_1345224.html" target="_hplink">that was recently presented</a> at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. "In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half," study researcher Qibin Qi, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2012-03/aha-wml030912.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 percent." Not only is it helpful to get moving from behind your desk -- it might be <em>harmful</em> to stay slumped over your computer instead.
Research consistently shows that a simple walking plan can help reduce LDL cholesterol -- the damaging kind, associated with heart disease -- and increase HDL cholesterol, which is associated with heart health. <a href="http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HealthResearchJournals.aspx?ChunkID=414029" target="_hplink">One study</a> in middle aged men found that walking enough to burn 300 calories per day was associated with a significant reduction in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is an indication of better cardiovascular function. The walking plan was also effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.
Even if you aren't genetically predisposed to obesity, you can still benefit from the weight regulating properties of walking. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day was associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/extra-walking-muscle-strength_n_1154874.html" target="_hplink">according to a recent Canadian study</a> of women, ages 50 to 70 years. In the study of 57 women, those who walked more than 10,000 steps were the only group to have a normal BMI of an average 25. Those who walked fewer than 7,500 steps and those who walked between 7,500 and 10,000 steps were, on average, overweight. But while walking may have an effect on overall body mas, if it's muscle tone, balance or agility you're after, the study found that even 10,000 steps wasn't sufficient.
People with fatigue who also lead sedentary lifestyles reported getting a 20 percent energy boost and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following a low-intensity exercise program that involved walking, according to a 2008 University of Georgia study. And more, recently, walking was shown to help mitigate the profound fatigue felt by those who were recovering from serious illness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/walking-fatigue-cancer_n_1403757.html" target="_hplink">reported </a>HuffPost's Amanda L. Chan: <blockquote>The new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level. </blockquote>
The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Just 30 minutes of strolling a day has been associated with mood improvement among depressed patients. In fact, thanks to the endorphins released during exercise, <a href="http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/walking/tips-and-strategies/mental-benefits-of-walking.php" target="_hplink">the study</a> -- published in the <em>British Journal of Sports Medicine</em> -- revealed that walking worked faster than antidepressants.