Walking for Depression

by in Depression, Kitchen Sink May 9, 2008

depressionwalk1.jpgThe other day I was talking to a friend on the phone that was suicidally depressed.

After a long conversation I asked… “Can you go out and go for a nice long healthy walk tomorrow? The fresh air and exercise will do you good.”

She responded, “Doc, I am too depressed to walk right now, can you just walk for me?”

This got us laughing about how maybe we should start a “3 Day Depression Walk”, you know like what we do in honor of those that have survived breast cancer?

“I would walk for you, if I actually thought it would do some good”, I replied.

Believe it or not, if you struggle with suicidal depression, you are a survivor. When you consider the rates of suicide, and number of people that die in reckless activities each year associated with depressed or manic behaviors, you will soon realize that if you are safe and sound at home right now, regardless if you are feeling happy, or if you are feeling suicidal, you are still a survivor. For that you should be proud.

Depression is a difficult disease for those loved ones that do not suffer from it to understand, it does not physically disfigure a person, it does not create many physical symptoms, or anything too tangible to grasp on to. People that were born naturally happy just don’t really seem to understand the torture that lies under the surface of someone that suffers from major depression.

Victims of depression are simply prisoners of their own bodies, trapped in a world of physical and mental pain that can be at an excruciating level that most people may never have to endure until their own death. We then beat ourselves up about how we can’t seem to control our negative thinking and depressive behavior which only serves to potentiate the pattern.

I have had several patients describe to me that the pain from depression was so bad that “all I could do was cut myself and watch myself bleed to distract me from the pain raging inside my blood.” If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you know first-hand what a devastating disease depression is for family and friends.

Surviving the fear in our own minds, the anxiety associated with severe depression and learning to overcome it is one of the most challenging obstacles a person can overcome. Depression survivors are some of the bravest people that I know.

Most people are ashamed to tell their friends and family that they struggle with depression. They are expected to “not be so negative and just shift their thinking and be more positive” which is about as practical as applying a fresh coat of bright paint to a rotting house.

Alternative medicine is great for treating depression long-term; some people will still need to stay on their natural or prescription anti-depressants while they address the root cause of their depression via naturopathic medicine, therapy, counseling, craniosacral, energy healing, reiki, acupuncture, life coaching, or even prayer.

Changing diet, adding exercise, using herbs and other natural medicines are also extremely effective. Regardless of how you choose to treat your depression, never give up hope. There are endless options available. Remember that it is all about “progress and not perfection”.

I believe disease is our teacher, and that if we are good students and present for our life lessons we will grow and become stronger individuals.

Which is precisely why we should all put an END to the vernacular “struggling with depression” and replace it with “challenged by depression”.

Our teachers often show up at the oddest of times
, not just when we are struggling with hardships, but also during those supposed happy times such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, brand new babies, new exciting jobs, vacation, retirement and other occasions in which we are supposed to feel happy. Sometimes we just feel agitated, which is a commonly under-reported sign of depression in men.

If you are depressed, I would encourage you to find a doctor to work with that is willing to look at your depression from a mind/body/spirit perspective. Put together a support team of counselors, teachers, doctors, friends, and family so that you are sure to be safe when severe depression or suicidal thinking strikes. Read my “Top Ten Tips For Those Struggling With Depression”. Also try to follow the Depression Diet so you can learn to eat the foods that will naturally raise your neurotransmitters. Stay tuned for future discussions on herbs and other alternative medicines that may be helpful as well.

With that being said, I would like to take a moment to encourage everyone with depression to start walking. Exercise in my opinion is more efficacious than most anti-depressants. The obvious obstacle is to get a depressed person out walking though. If you have a friend or family member that is depressed, make them move every single day. Insist they go walking, running, swimming or biking with you. Sign them up for salsa dancing. Play tennis. Organize a kickball game. Tell them you are picking them up for a hike at 8am. If you really want to help them, start the exercise routine for them, force them to do it, they will thank you eventually. An object in motion stays in motion. Exercise is a simple and free way to naturally boost our neurotransmitter levels.

If you are depressed and relatively inactive, work up to a new fitness program gradually and commit to moving your body every single day. My guess after three days of walking you will notice a notable improvement. Take a day off when you really need it, otherwise please just whatever you do, keep on moving, keep on walking in honor of your depression. You are a survivor, you are extremely brave, and for that you should be proud.

Hold your head up high when you walk. Never look down.

~Dr. Nicole Sundene

  1. Very balanced article!

    I was diagnosed with chronic depression and Hepatitis C in August of ’06.

    In July of that year, I attempted suicide twice.

    I’ve recently finished the eleven month drug regimen for Hep C and am taking whole-food-based nutrition and will soon start an exercise program.

    I’m weaning myself off the anti-depressants. I’ll see my psychiatrist soon, too.

    Quick question:

    I’m on an SSRI. Mood disorders show elevated levels of serotonin. Why would I be prescribed a drug that would further elevate serotonin??

  2. You’re right, Doc. Reading this makes the whole subject more understandable for me. Funny thing, but one of the few times in my life that I was depressed was that year in the 1970s when I had 3 fires in my life in one year. First I had a car fire, then a house fire, then an office fire, set by an arsonist, that burned up some $30,000 worth of uninsured office equipment and inventory.
    I used heavy doses of Niacinamide (1,600-2,000 Mg. / da) for a while to combat the depression. It worked. (Not Niacin, but Niacinamide.) Ever have any experience with this?

  3. Nice write up!

    I’m surprised how prevalent depression. Aside from depression, there’s also traumatic events. I don’t think most people are taught the life skills or thought patterns that help.

    The best book I’ve ever seen that literally provides principles, patterns, and practices for feeling good is the book Feeling Good ( What I particularly like about the book is the doctor starts right off saying that he beats the drugs by teaching effective skills.

    I’ve recommended it to my mentees, family and friends. Life’s about feeling good, so what better way than learn the skills that work, so whether you’re depressed or just want to make the most of your day or you may need it in the future when life throws you a curve ball.

  4. Very informative and useful article. I have also suffred from depression(I don’t know what type of depression was that but as far as it was painful and hard for me, that was quite serious one) about few years back but now I can say I have won about 75% battle. Today I think very confortable and happy and nothing that I used to think before. During those days, in my case I never thought of suicide but some very negative thoughts used to come in my mind.

    What I used to think was that I should fight with this and be a normal person I was before and believed that I can be. I once had taken medicine for about a month only and consulted with a psychiatric for about two months.

    I feel great to be the person I am today and wish would have been able to be at this condition 5 years before. But, I also know I can’t get anything by thinking in that way. So, I am doing my best to utilize the time I have at this time and in future of course.

  5. We are all suvivors of something. Be it breast cancer, an anxiety disorder, a break-up, or depression!

    What a great concept of walking “to feel better” about anything that is going on that bothers us. The sunshine and fresh air is medicine all on it’s own.

    Thank you for the great and creative stance on “walking”.
    Dr. KC

  6. Dr. Nicole,

    Wow! what a beautiful site makeover? You’ve done fabulous job. I know that depression is one of the major killers in America due to intense stress that exists in our society. Knowing the symptoms early and treating them is the key to avoid this terrible sickness. Great post.
    I’ve written a blog post related to this:

    You are the best,


  7. Erin Happycamper May 10, 2008 at 10:43 pm Reply

    so, what if you’re too depressed to walk?

    Too depressed to leave the bed?

    Too depressed to answer the phone or respond to emails?

  8. Hi Dr. Nicole,

    How wonderful of you to write about this subject. I have had friends and family members suffer from depression, and I for a long time, I couldn’t understand why they just couldn’t pick themselves up by the boot straps, and “snap out of it”. I then learned the problem was much deeper than that, and they are truly suffering inside. The change in their behavior was remarkable when they got the proper help.

  9. Great post and a difficult subject. There is a safe place inside all of us that no one can touch. It comes from God. If only more people would discover this so they could find it when they need to talk to God the most. That is where our strength comes from. Nothing in this world can touch it.

    JJ 😀

  10. Hi Nicole (or shall I call you Doctor), how are you? Your articles are so informative. I, at least, get to learn a lots from them. While reading them, I wish that I was also a doctor. You know, my school principal had requested my father so many times that I take up medicine. Instead, I chose Maths and Economics. Now, when I look back, I feel that I should have taken up medicine. Well, if not a doctor, at least semi-doctor…. I know homoeopathy and ayurveda in and out.

  11. Hi Alexander- wow you really are a survivor. I am not aware of mood disorders being associated with an elevation in serotonin, I was under the impression that it is the opposite problem as SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) MAOI’s and Tricyclics all work to increase levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin which work to make our brains feel happier. If you have an article or reference about elevated levels of serotonin in relation to poor mood I would be interested to read about it. Thanks!

  12. Hi Jack! Glad this article helped a bit. Wow three fires in one year? That is some phenomenal bad luck! I am not familiar with niacinamide for depression, although I almost always prescribe all the B vitamins (especially B6 pyridoxine, and B12 cyanocobalmin, and folic acid which all have research for depression). If you have an article on niacinamide I would be curious to read it, although I did do a quick search and was unable to find anything.

  13. Hi JD- thanks so much for the book recommendation. I will check that out! I agree that effective coping skills are integral to the healing process, unfortunately when some people are in the throws of major depression, coping skills are just not quite enough.

  14. Hi Doc KC- all we can do as doctors is try to motivate people to be better to feel healthier…ah I need to get out in the fresh air and sunshine myself! Can’t wait to see what you have cooking at your blog today though.

  15. Hi shilpan! Glad you like the new look, we have been making a lot of changes and trying to simplify the navigation. Thanks for the article, I will check that out!

  16. Hi Erin- Yes those are the signs of major depression that are going to need more extensive treatment than just walking and positive thinking. I would hope that if that is the case the person feeling that depressed asks their family or friends to help get them to a doctor or facility that can provide them with the care and monitoring that they need to get to a more stable and functionable state. I call what you described being “in the hole” it is tough to get out of the hole, but walking and eating right are some of the easiest ways to stay out of the hole.

    Lot’s of self love!

  17. Hi Barbara- I am glad you are able to understand depression better. Nothing feels worse for a depressed person to be told to “snap out of it” LOL

    It unfortunately is not that simple. I work hard to remind my patients that depression is a DISEASE. Nobody likes to think that they have a disease, and I often try to avoid to use the word disease in order to stay more positive, however it truly is a disease and we have to take it that seriously as the consequences of this disease can be life threatening.

    You can still be a positive light in someone’s life and help them “snap out of it” by listening, showing you care, being part of their support team, and of course reminding them of all the hundreds of positive and wonderful things going on out there in life.

  18. Hi JJ- thank you so much for adding that commentary. I think a strong spiritual connection is vital for battling any chronic disease, especially depression.

  19. Hi Sangeeta- I am well thanks for asking, my dad always told me to go in to computers because that was the future of the world. But i chose medicine. Now that I have this website I sure do wish that I took a few classes in computers! It is never too late to learn something new though…

    Thanks for stopping by!

  20. Hi Jirel- Glad to hear that you are getting help and making progress. I am all about “progress not perfection”!

    Take good care, and thanks for stopping by 😀

  21. Your site is so full of valuable information…do you sleep or just type?? I wish I had more time to read. Anyway, I just wanted to say that all of your suggestions for alleviating depression are great but I’d like to add one more.

    Researchers are finding that time spent in nature can be very therapeutic for anxiety, depression, attention deficit and more. I think that, along with the exercise involved in a walk outside, the immersion in nature may also be a factor in it’s effectiveness. I have a post on my site that gives some information on this if your or anyone else is interested called Why Getting Back to Nature May Prove to be the Best Therapy (

    Thanks for all of the great information…I have to go back to reading now.

  22. […] Recommended Reading for Depression: Ten Ways to Better Cope with Depression, The Depression Diet, The Low Glycemic Index Diet, Fish Oil vs Flax Oil, Depression, Anxiety, Square Breathing, Five Minutes to Zen, The 3 Day Depression Walk. […]

  23. Taking a regular stroll can not only beat depression, but also various types of cancer! New research shows that regular walking can reduce the risk of breast, bowel and other cancers significantly. It has long been known that regular exercise can improve risk factors for many serious health conditions including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and more. Now researchers are saying you don’t have to be an athlete — that regular, moderate exercise can provide just as many health benefits by improving oxygenation, circulation, immune response and helping to flush out toxins. For more info, check out my full article:

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