Take charge of your energy level and depression with movement and posture

I felt depressed when I looked down walking slowly. I realized that I walk like that all the time. I really need to change my walking pattern. When doing opposite arm and leg skipping, I had more energy. Right away I felt happy and free. I automatically smiled.    –Student

Hunched forward at the computer, collapsed in front of the TV, bent forward with an I-pad and smart phone while answering emails, updating Facebook, playing games, reading or texting—these are all habits that may affect our energy level.  Students may also experience a decrease in energy level and concentration when they slouch in their seats.

The low tech solution is not caffeine or medications; it is episodic movement and upright posture. In the controlledresearch study published October 5, 2012 in the journal Biofeedback, Erik Peper, PhD of San Francisco State University and I-Mei Lin, PhD of Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan, showed that subjective energy level can quickly be increased.

In this study 110 participants rated their immediate subjective energy level and their general depression level.  The participants either walked in a slouched position or engaged in opposite arm and leg skipping (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Illustration of slouched walking (left) and opposite arm and leg skipping (right). Reproduced from Peper & Lin (2012).

Skipping even for even one minute significantly increased energy level and alertness for all subjects. On the other hand, walking in a slouched pattern reduced the energy level significantly for those participants who had high levels of depression as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Self-rating of energy level for the top and bottom 20% of the students’ self-rating of depression. Reproduced from: Peper & Lin, (2012).

For people with a history of depression, their energy level may covertly increase or decrease depending upon posture and movements. When individuals have less energy, they feel that they can do less, and this feeling tends to increase depressive thinking. They also tend to label the lower energy state as the beginning of depression instead being tired. At the same time, the lower energy state tends to evoke depressive memories and thoughts which escalate the experience of depression. This process can be interrupted and reversed by shifting body posture and performing movement.

This study offers a strategy for people with depression to reverse conditioned cues associated with posture that evoke depressive thoughts and feelings. Wilson and Peper (2004) showed previously that ‘‘sitting collapsed’’ allowed easier access to hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories than sitting upright and looking up. Posture appears to be aan overlooked aspect in the prevention of depression.

There is hope if you tend to become depressed and experience low energy. Numerous participants reported that after they performed opposite arm/leg skipping they did not want to walk in a slouched position.  This suggests that this type of movement my act as a protective mechanism to avoid energy decrease and depression. Some participants with attention deficit disorders reported that after skipping they could focus their attention much better. I recommend being more aware of your body posture during the day and increasing your arm and leg skipping movements.

*Adapted from: Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level.  Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

12 Comments on “Take charge of your energy level and depression with movement and posture”

  1. kathy says:

    like the finding the place of choicefulnesss in this

  2. Doug Brown says:

    This certainly fits into the realm of Biofeedback when attempting to understand how the body interprets stimulation and responses. I don’t think it matters how change and awareness is developed so long as the person is able to obtain some kind of succesful outcome. This idea described would be great for groups. Doug.

    • erikpeper says:

      Yes, we usually do this in groups and it works much better. In addition by having participants do both types of movements, they experience the difference in energy,

  3. Dear Erik,

    Thanks for your email.

    We are starting now several groups of 35 people in Israel training RESTRESS by HRV. They will do HRV Biofeedback training together in the nature (in a big park in Tel-Aviv), all of them will use their laptops and our cloud HRV training system with the Pulse Oximeter devices that you saw. The main idea is to do this training on the same time and to coherent all their harts on the same time.

    I will use your technique for one minutes 3 times during the meeting to increase their energy level…



  4. davidthewellnessdude says:

    Erik, Did your participants have a depression dx? Were they assessed for it? If not, do you think this would be usefull in managing depression? Thanks.

    • erikpeper says:

      The depression ratings were by self-assessment. The upper 20% of the participants reported a experiencing significant depression over the last few years. the research data on movement supports our findings that in controlled outcome studies, exercise leads to better outcome than medication. Our study pointed out that posture is a significant factor in maintaining, augmenting or reducing the depressive feelings. I see the process as classical conditioning. The body posture, just as environmental and social cues, evoke the depressive memories and thoughts.

  5. MARTHA MASSA says:

    Thank you, Erik. Great advice

  6. Barbara Ahlquist says:

    Very helpful information. As always, thanks for making information like this so accessible.

  7. Ayben Ertem says:

    Thank you for sharing Erik… I recommend this to one of my friend whom I feel is depressed… he said he tried a couple of times and felt better… I will use it for my clients:) Thanks.

  8. Hello Dr. Pepper,

    Thanks for this great research study. What are thoughts about your research study pertaining workplace mental health?

    John Stevenson

  9. […] In most cases about 20 minutes of continued activity is enough to keep in shape and regenerate. When the urge to watch TV or just to crash occurs, do some of the movement—you will gain energy. The exercises this article are are developed to reduce discomfort, increase flexibility  and […]

  10. […] music while I work, putting the feeling of having fun in my body. This is also one of my tools for coping with depression—getting my body moving to remember I’m alive, essentially faking it ’til I make it to […]

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