Dog walking, according to a recent news report, is healthy for people. That little report follows three massive new research reviews that confirm earlier findings of the mental health benefits of exercise:
- An American Journal of Psychiatry analysis of 49 studies followed 266,939 people across an average 7 years. In every part of the world, people of all ages had a lower risk of becoming depressed if physically active rather than inactive.
- JAMA Psychiatry reports that, for teens, “regular physical activity [contributes] to positive mental health.”
- Another JAMA Psychiatry analysis of 33 clinical trials found an additional depression-protecting effect of “resistance exercise training” (such as weight lifting and strength-building).
A skeptic might wonder if mentally healthy people have more energy for exercise. (Being really depressed comes with a heaviness that may entail trouble getting out of bed.) But the “prospective studies”—which follow lives through time—can discern a sequence of exercise predicting future reduced depression risk. Moreover, many clinical trial experiments—with people assigned to exercise or control conditions—confirm that exercise not only contributes to health and longevity, it also treats and protects against depression and anxiety. Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body.
Indeed, given the modest benefits of antidepressant drugs, some researchers are now recommending therapeutic lifestyle change as a potentially more potent therapy for mild to moderate depression—or as a protection against such. When people modify their living to include the exercise, sunlight exposure, ample sleep, and social connections that marked our ancestors’ lives—a lifestyle for which they were bred—they tend to flourish, with greater vitality and joy. In one study, substantial depression relief was experienced by 19 percent of patients in a treatment-as-usual control group and by 68 percent undergoing therapeutic lifestyle change.
Finally, more good news—for dog walkers: Dog walking is said to be healthy and calming for dogs, too. But I suspect that will not surprise any dog owner or their dog.