A simple, ancient, remedy for the blues works, according to a new, large-scale study
Melancholia has always been with us. We have new remedies for it now. (I’m looking at you, Prozac and your cousins.) Yet a new study confirms that a most ancient remedy can both prevent and ameliorate it.
“Walking is an inexpensive, low risk, and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that, combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, underutilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression,” said Sara Warber, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, in a statement.
Warber is senior author of a study of the benefits of group walking in nature, and a member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. It is “Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large scale study,” published in the journal Ecopsychology this month.
Midnight Hour Blues
When I think of depression and anxiety, a plangent blues guitar gets going, and a gravelly tenor sings, “In the wee midnight hours, long ‘fore the break of day, the blues creep up on you, and carry your mind away.”
Most of us have experience with this. We have either lived it or known someone who has. In the 19th century it would have been called neurasthenia, which is a fancy way of saying nerves. In the 20th century it would have been called the blues, specifically the walking the floor and moaning blues. That is a down home way of saying nerves.
In the 21st century, the ways we live are a perfect recipe for nerves. Between lack of community and lack of exercise, lack of Omega-3s and lack of full-spectrum light, our customs are not good for our spirits.
“Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long-term quality of life and well-being,” Warber stated.
“Group walks in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions,” she said.
I experienced this, and it worked for me. I traveled to visit a friend in the New York suburbs, who had a three-day a week walking group with women friends she had known for years. Best thing since sliced bread.
We met and hiked 4 miles on wide trails through meadows and forests, over streams and up and down hills.
One member of the group had two Portuguese water dogs. The elder of the two was blind, and she said she had gotten the younger one to be an assistance dog for the blind one. She chose a puppy she had been told was nurturing and I saw it happen! That dog watched out for the blind one, subtly nudging him along.
The walkers were subtly nudging each other along, too. Dog person had a brother-in-law in the hospital for 10, count them, 10 months, after a devastating brain trauma. She was able to just talk about it, how her sister was doing, the bits of progress, the anxieties, how it was for her family, and the rest listened and gave little bits of encouragement and empathy.
There was lightness, too—about a controlling, lengthy speech-making volunteer in the community: “I think she might need medication.” “I think she might be overusing medication!” Laughter.
It was tonic. A better tonic than Prozac.