Girl Walking With BalloonsCould the way you move affect how you feel? According to research from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the way you walk can influence your mood. In a new study, a research team encouraged participants to walk in a depressed way or a happy way. People who had a more depressed walking style recalled more negative concepts after walking. The research suggests that the way you move can impact your emotional state.

For the experiment, the researchers showed participants a list of positive and negative words. The list included words like pretty, afraid, and anxious. Next, they asked participants to walk on a treadmill. As they walked, the researchers measured their gait and posture. While the participants walked, the researchers showed them a gauge of whether their walking style was happier or more depressed. The participants did not know what the gauge was measuring. The researchers asked the participants to try to move the gauge to the right or left, in effect encouraging them to alter their walking style to either a happy or depressed mode. Finally, when the walking task was complete, the participants wrote down as many words as they could remember from the list of words.

The participants who walked in a more depressed way—with less arm movement and slumped shoulders—recalled more negative words at the end of the experiment than people who walked in a happy way. This suggests that a depressed walking style creates a more depressed mood.

This study builds on understanding of how mood influences memory. Other research demonstrates that depressed people are more likely to remember the negative—especially negative things about themselves. Remembering the bad perpetuates a depressed mood. This suggests that coaching people with mood disorders to adopt a happier walking style could help them break the cycle of depressive thoughts.

“If you can break that self-perpetuating cycle, you might have a strong therapeutic tool to work with depressive patients,” explains study co-author and CIFAR Senior Fellow Nikolaus Troje.

This research is published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

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