Charlie's Blog: Walking Is My Therapy


Walking Is My Therapy

I always imagine myself deep in a hole unable to crawl out.

I must begin this post with the disclaimer that I am not a doctor, healthcare professional, mental health worker, personal trainer, or anything else. I am simply someone who walks for health and fitness and writes about it on a blog. These are just my personal observations. If you want professional advice and opinions, then you need to consult a professional.

I do not think running cures or alleviates depression. I think running causes and exacerbates depression. I came to this conclusion after watching a recent video about an ultrarunner who attempted suicide. She said that she found comfort for her depression in a surprising place--walking. The walking benefited her so greatly that she started a program to bring the mental health benefits of walking to others. I found this story ironic because running was not a therapy to her. This is in contrast to the book Running Is My Therapy by Scott Douglas which argues that running is a benefit to mental health. I disagree with Mr. Douglas.

I have not read the book, and I don't plan on reading it. This is because I used to run, and it did nothing for my mental health except make me feel worse. The thesis of the book strikes me as more wish than reality. Runners wish that running cured depression. I have never met a happy runner.

I have met and discovered a lot of happy walkers. I am one of them. My wife will attest that I am in a much better mood when I come back from a walk. There are reams of research that back up this discovery that walking has many mental health benefits. I do not see the same amount of research for running. 

There is research that makes the claim of mental health benefits for running, but I find them inconclusive. I suspect that the benefits are relative to exertion. A slow jogger doesn't strike me as much different from a brisk walker. A fast runner who competes in races is a different story. So, I will fill in the blanks with my speculations as I wait for more conclusive research from the professionals.

I think runners are more prone to depression because they are tired. Yes, I know. That is a simple and unsophisticated conclusion. What I know from personal experience is that I am in a bad mood when I am tired and hungry. Walking will make you tired but not as tired as running. Walking is pleasant and invigorating. Running is painful and exhausting. If you doubt this, look at the faces of runners at a marathon. They are all grimacing from the effort. These are not the faces of people having a good time.

Ultrarunners are notorious for going to very dark mental places. Rob Krar is the poster boy for ultrarunning darkness. What takes these athletes to such dark pits of despair? They are simply tired and in need of calories. Running 100 mile races will do that to you. It's known as bonking. This is when your glycogen stores get depleted, and your body switches to burning fat to keep going. It isn't pleasant or invigorating.

Scott Douglas confesses to suffering from depression and makes the claim that running brings him relief from his condition. As I said, I do not believe him. Running while depressed is like eating prunes when you are starving. This fellow is similarly unconvincing.

I do not think running causes depression. I just don't think it helps. It takes a great deal of energy to go for a run which has to be impossible for someone already depressed. Going for a walk is not nearly as daunting as going for a run. My mood brightens within ten minutes of starting a walk.

Testing my hypothesis is fairly simple. Go for a run and then record how you feel at the end of it. Go for a walk for a similar amount of time and record how you feel at the end of that. I have heard enough testimonies from ex-runners turned walkers that walking is the better and more enjoyable option.

Walking is definitely my therapy. I am grateful to God that I am able to walk. That ability was in doubt for a time, but I can say that walking has been a journey back to wellness. All of that research on the benefits of walking has certainly proven true for me. I still have much further to go, but I can say that those daily walks outdoors have benefited me so far.

As I said, I am not a professional on these things. I am just an experiment of one. I can attest that the benefits I experience with walking are similar to the experiences of many others. I am just putting my ditto mark on their testimonies. Maybe you will put your ditto mark there, too.

Depression: A Walking Prescription

Bob Sallis, MD: Walking and Depression