If you suffer from stress, anxiety or depression, here’s some good news: a growing body of evidence supports exercise as an effective treatment for clinical anxiety disorders as well as more generalized anxiety. Exercise is also earning acclaim as beneficial for those with mild-to-moderate depression — a study by Canadian scientists George Mammen, MSc and Guy Faulkner, PhD, titled Physical Activity and the Prevention of Depression, suggests even low levels of physical activity, such as walking for short periods daily, can ward off and help treat depression. Good news indeed!

According to the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness. In search of treatment alternatives to prescription medications, both patients and doctors are increasingly interested in side effect-free, self-help tools — like exercise. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

While there are still many mysteries to be solved, experts believe exercise eases anxiety and depression by releasing feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and endorphins), by reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression, and by increasing body temperature, which can provide a calming effect. A study by Dr. Andrea Dunn at the Cooper Research Institute in Dallas, Texas, found patients who did the equivalent of 35 minutes’ walking, six days per week, experienced a 47% reduction in their level of depression. This study suggests as little as three hours of exercise each week reduces the symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression as effectively as many antidepressants.

Feeling stressed? Feeling worried? Feeling Blue? Grab your poles and walk your way to better physical — and mental health.