Changing Your Walking Style Could Help With Depression

John Hopton for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Depression is an extremely complex and serious condition, but simple steps and changes have been found to be of benefit, and one newly identified possibility is a change in the way we walk. It is well known that our state of mind can affect our body language, including how we walk, but research has now shown that the reverse is also true. Changing our walking style could result in changes to our mood.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry and conducted by Queen’s University along with clinical psychologists from the University of Hildesheim, Germany, had participants walk in different styles on treadmills. They were then assessed on how they were feeling. Some walked in a depressed manner, with shoulders dropped and rolled forward and arms moving little, while others would walk more happily, in a bouncing gait with an open and upright posture.

The people being observed did not know what the walking styles they were adopting were supposed to signify, they were simply asked to influence a gauge to move more to the left or more to the right, and quickly learned what kind of walking would make the gauge move in the required way. They were not aware that the direction of the gauge depended on whether their walking style was more depressed or happier.

In order to assess their mood, the subjects were given a list of positive and negative words, such as “pretty,” “afraid” and “anxious,” before they went on the treadmill. After they had finished on the treadmill, they were asked to list as many of the words as they could remember. People who had walked in a depressed manner remembered more negative words, while people who had a happier walk remembered more of the positive words.

This is consistent with what we already know about the nature of thought cycles in depression, according to Nikolaus Troje (Queen’s University), a Senior Fellow at the Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) and a co-author on the paper. People suffering from depression tend to recall more negative events from their past, which in itself perpetuates the depression.

“If we can break that self-perpetuating cycle, we might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients,” Dr. Troje explained in a statement.

The study also contributes to the questions asked in CIFAR’s Neural Computation & Adaptive Perception program, which, according to the CIFAR website, “aims to unlock the mystery of how our brains convert sensory stimuli into information and to recreate human-style learning in computers.”

Dr. Troje says that, “As social animals we spend so much time watching other people, and we are experts at retrieving information about other people from all sorts of different sources.”

Those sources include facial expression, posture and body movement. It is hoped that by developing a better understanding of the biological algorithms in our brains that process stimuli, including information from our own movements, researchers can develop more effective artificial intelligence at the same time as learning more about ourselves.

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