For many people suffering from clinical depression, regular exercise has been shown to act as a mood elevator. But don’t let the word “exercise” scare you. One easy form of physical activity is walking. That means you can overcome depression by taking a simple step – literally!
How Walking Affects Your Brain:
- While walking, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that both reduce pain and improve mood.
- Walking increases serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a brain chemical, a neurotransmitter that influences mood. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience revealed that the mechanism by which regular exercise increases serotonin levels is by increasing the level of tryptophan in the brain (an amino acid used to manufacture serotonin).
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- Walking can lower adrenaline levels. Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is responsible for the “fight or flight” response that occurs when we get scared or feel stressed. It can become depleted with chronic anxiety. Walking, on the other hand, can help decrease adrenaline levels.
- Walking enables brain cells to use dopamine more efficiently. Dopamine is another neurotransmitter, which acts similar to adrenaline. Dopamine affects brain processes that control movement, the ability to experience pleasure and pain, and emotional response.
Further Benefits from Walking:
- If you’re walking outdoors, the sun will also help beat depression. The sun is the main source of Vitamin D3, a type of vitamin D that increases levels of both dopamine and serotonin in the brain. What’s more, people who do not get enough exposure to sunlight in the winter months can actually develop a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).
- Aerobic exercise in the form of walking helps improve mood by increasing pathways in the body that carry oxygen to cells. Every cell in the body requires oxygen to function properly. It is estimated that the brain alone uses at least 12% of the total oxygen that people inhale. In fact, a decrease in oxygen in the body slows the dopamine receptors, preventing them from functioning normally, and thereby altering mood.
- Get started! Your exercise program can be as simple as a walking 20 or 30 minutes at a time, beginning today. This is a short enough amount of time that it doesn’t drastically impede your schedule. And, it is also enough time to get an adequate exposure to sunlight for boosting your vitamin D3 levels.
- Make a routine. Keeping a regular work-out schedule makes it easier to stick to.
- Walk with a friend for support, encouragement and accountability. You’ll feel less tempted to skip your walk if your friend is waiting at your door to walk with you.
- Set realistic goals and measure personal improvement. One way to visualize your accomplishments is to use a daily log or journal. For example, you could write, “I will walk 20 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays” or “I will walk for 30 minutes four times per week.” You can also write down the speed of each walk and the distance covered to keep track of your personal improvement. (Learn more exercise tips here: How to Get Motivated to Exercise)
If you are serious about overcoming depression, a regular exercise program is an essential strategy for resolving the underlying causes of depression. But it is not the only one! In fact you’ll want to identify all those underlying causes that are specific to you; then you’ll want to employ a multi-strategy approach to resolve each of these depression causes at their root level.
 Psychiatry Neurosci; How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs; Simon Young; November 2007.
 Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, 2009.
 University of Maryland Medical Center: Cerebral Hypoxia-Overview.