Problem: Depression is a common disorder worldwide. Most patients are treated within primary care and antidepressant treatment is not recommended for people with mild depression. Physical activity has been shown to alleviate depression but it is not known whether the less vigorous activity of walking - a potentially widely acceptable and safe intervention - confers such benefit. Method: Eleven databases were systematically searched for randomised, controlled trials of walking as a treatment intervention for depression, from database inception until January 2012. Meta-analyses were carried out on all trials eligible for inclusion and on sub-groups of outdoor, indoor and group walking. Results: Of the 14,672 articles retrieved, eight trials met the inclusion criteria. The pooled standardised mean difference (effect size) was -0.86 [-1.12, -0.61] showing that walking has a statistically significant, large effect on symptoms of depression. However, there was considerable heterogeneity amongst the interventions and research populations and it is uncertain whether the results can be generalised to specific populations such as primary care patients. Conclusions: Walking has a statistically significant, large effect on the symptoms of depression in some populations, but the current evidence base from randomised, controlled trials is limited. Thus, while walking is a promising treatment for depression or depressive symptoms with few, if any, contraindications, further investigations to establish the frequency, intensity, duration and type(s) of effective walking interventions particularly in primary care populations would be beneficial for providing further recommendations to clinical practitioners.
- Physical activity
- Systematic review