Walk Metro Vancouver has been exploring the link between walking and better mental health. The New York Times writes about three new studies on depression and regular exercise that should impact how we build cities and how we enhance walkability for sociability and mental fitness. Reviewing the habits of over one million men and women the studies “strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.”
While the evidence has been clear that designing cities for walking has tremendous health benefits in keeping the population mobile and fit, the evidence about the mental health benefits of walkability has been less clear. By finding several studies that collectively followed over 1.1 million adults, the link between fitness and mental health was “considerable“. Scientists found that people with the lowest fitness levels were 75 per cent more likely to have diagnoses of depression than the fittest people. The folks in the middle fitness level were 25 per cent more likely to have depression diagnoses.
“The pooled results persuasively showed that exercise, especially if it is moderately strenuous, such as brisk walking or jogging, and supervised, so that people complete the entire program, has a “large and significant effect” against depression, the authors wrote. People’s mental health tended to demonstrably improve if they were physically active.”
“The three reviews together make a sturdy case for exercise as a means to bolster mental as well as physical health, said Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at the Centro Universitário La Salle in Canoas, Brazil, who, with Brendon Stubbs, a professor at King’s College in London, was a primary author on all of the reviews.”
That neuroscience advice to go for a walk or go ride a bike when overwhelmed or stressed appears to be sound. Mental health improves the more active a population is. It is a perfect rationale to encourage the refit and reboot of wide comfortable walkable sidewalks and connections in cities and in suburbs, keeping citizens of all ages active and engaged.