Walking Back to Happiness


  • You’re suffering from depression and undergoing a course of counselling and/or medication but are looking for natural ways of complementing your treatment
  • You’re recovering from depression and feel ready to get out there
  • You want to meet new people, widen your social circle and enjoy new activities as part of your
  • program of recovery from depression

We all want to be happy, yet happiness can be so hard to find. Exercise has been clinically proven to boost the spirits and bring some relief when we are feeling very down and our lives seem out of control.

Many of us will suffer from stress and anxiety at some point in our lives, some of us may also suffer from a feeling of despair or hopelessness and a lack of interest in life. This feeling of depression, an illness generally through to be caused by a reduction in certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain.

It can be a debilitating condition, but one that can be treated effectively with medication and/or counselling. The symptoms of depression can also be reduced by physical activity, as exercise releases the body’s own natural antidepressants, endorphins, which have been shown to play a key role in determining mood and the body’s response to stress.

As well as introducing you to the psychological benefits of exercise, this program will provide you with a structured way to think about deep-seated issues in your life. Social interaction can provide reassurance, as well as being a way of putting your problems into perspective, so try to coordinate some of these walks with the activities of friends and family: encourage a friend to walk with you or use a walk as an opportunity to visit a relative or neighbour.

Daily Dose
A 10-minute walk can be enough to release endorphins and lift your mood. Concentrate on enjoying the present

Natural mood-enhancers

A study out at Nottingham Trent University published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2001 has shown that physical activity probably boosts people’s moods thanks to a naturally occurring amphetamine – a stimulant that improves mood and decreases fatigue – that is released into the bloodstream when we exercise.

Levels of the compound phenylethylamine were found to be nearly 80% higher in people who had exercised for about 30 minutes on a treadmill. People who are depressed have been found to have low levels of these natural amphetamines, leading to the conclusion that regular activity will help to keep depression at bay and may even leave you on a natural high.

Week one

Get out for your daily dose as often as possible. Don’t worry if you don’t manage to go out every day, this is your week for getting used to being out and about again.

Find two occasions when you can go for a leisurely walk in a park or a rural setting. Listen closely to sounds (birdsong, a creek, children playing) and observe the sights around you (clouds, colours, trees). Simply try to enjoy the experience of being outside.

Week two

Get out for your daily dose on as many days as possible. Don’t worry if you don’t manage it one day – just take the program at your own pace.

Go for three longer walks of 20 – 30 minutes each, varying your route each time. At the end of the week, decide which of these you would like to be your set route, a route you can travel whenever you need space for thinking

ON at least one of these walks spend time thinking back to a period in your life when you were happy. Try to identify why you were happy at that time. As you walk, remember to clear your mind of thoughts of “could have been” or what might possibly be and focus on what you have now.

Week’s three to four

Walk your set route at least once each week. Keeping the same route can help you to monitor changes in how you’re feeling as you associate particular landmarks with thoughts you’ve had at that spot on earlier walks.

If you can go for one long walk of around 30 – 45 minutes during each of these weeks. Use one of these walks as a social occasion and walk with a friend, even if he or she only join you for part of the walk. Use the other walk to think about what determines your quality of life. Try to understand that there will always be changes in your life, some good and some bad.

Week’s five to six

Continue with your daily dose. Try to get out every day, even if only for 5 – 10 minutes, Use this time to take a break from worries and align yourself in the present.

Go for three longer walks during each of these weeks, staying out for at least 30 – 40 minutes. Once you’ve warmed up on these walks, introduce an element of very fast walking for 5 – 10 minutes. Then gradually slow down and think about your feelings. If any negative emotions have come to the surface during your walk, the best thing you can do is to just let go of them.

Make a least one of the walks a special occasion. If you’re feeling particularly low one day don’t think that this is not the day for walking with a friend or visiting a family.

Meeting and chatting with others might be just what you need to help raise your spirits.

Use another of the walks as an opportunity to observe and appreciate nature. Choose a pleasant natural setting, preferably near water or bushland and think about the animal and plant life around you as you walk. Listen to your deepest thoughts and try to separate these from the superficial stress in your life.

Weeks seven – ten+

Continue with at least three long walks of 45 minutes to an hour a week in natural settings. Think about positive and negative energy. Positive energy comes from good time spent with family and friends and from making contact with nature. Negative energy comes from feelings such as guilt and greed. The natural settings may help you to recharge your batteries. Make sure you’re not working long hours and never finding time to meet up with friends and family. You might want to widen your walking circle by joining a group.

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