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article imageIs walking an effective antidepressant?

By Yukio Strachan     Apr 17, 2012 in Health
Adding brisk walks in your day may help keep depression away, suggests researchers in Scotland, adding more evidence to studies on this depression treatment.
It is widely known that exercise can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of depression, but it is not known whether a less strenuous activity like walking has the same effect.
So researchers at the University of Stirling decided to find out.
Scottish researchers undertook the task of gathering and analyzing 14,672 articles to find eight trials, you've read that right, eight trials, totaling of 341 patients, which, as the BBC put it -- fitted the bill.
Overall, the combined results of these trials, published this month in the journal Mental Health and Physical Activity, showed that walking had a rather "large effect" on reducing the symptoms of depression.
However, before you grab those gym shoes, there's a bit of fine print. While walking is a promising treatment for depression or depressive symptoms, the study authors write, better quality research in the area of depression is needed.
Behind the Headlines news states that: “trials were small, and they varied in the types of people they included, the walking programs they used and what they compared walking to. This limits the strength of the conclusions that can be drawn about the effects of walking in specific groups of people with depression.”
However, this is not the first review to evaluate the effectiveness of exercise in the management of depression.
In the previous review, different researchers offered this suggestion: "Doctors could recommend more physical activity to their motivated patients, but this should not replace standard treatment, particularly for those with severe disease. "
Set of catch-22s
The renowned Menninger Clinic said explains why this is so. Depression, which strikes about 121 million people worldwide, is a mental health condition that effects the body physically.
In other words, although researchers say that "walking can be easily undertaken by most people, fits into our daily schedules, is low-cost and comes with little risk of adverse effects," when the body is zapped physically from depression, taking a walk may feel like a marathon.
Menninger Clinic calls this depression's catch 22s.
"You’ll do best by setting small goals as well as by being patient with yourself, respecting the challenges of coping with the catch 22s," the Clinc suggests. "Ideally, you can feel some compassion for yourself in this struggle, rather than berating yourself."
Other treatments for depression
Although depression can be reliably diagnosed and treated, according to the World Health Organization or the WHO, fewer than 25% of those affected get effective treatments.
Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are effective for 60-80% of those affected with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration, the WHO reports.
But barriers to effective care include the lack of resources, lack of trained providers, and the social and professional stigma associated depression.
Lifting the stigma associated with depression is part of the treatment of depression. Associating depression with sin and laziness when you’re struggling with depression, the WHO writes, puts the blame on the person already suffering. It also implies that an act of will is required to "snap out of it."
"Yet depression is an illness, analogous to hypertension or diabetes,"The Menninger Clinic writes, "you cannot recover by a mere act of will." just like you cannot recover from hypertension or diabetes from a mere act of will.
Stigma of depression, says the WHO, "gains strength from these misconceptions and reinforces them."
More about Major depression, Exercise, Treatments for depression, Stigma
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