Nature Walks Offer Mental Health Benefits, Study Finds

benefits of natureTaking a walk outdoors has long been suggested for people trying to clear their head, enjoy a breath of fresh air and combat stress.

Turns out, it may actually work – really well.

People who took group nature walks were linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well being, according to a new, large scale study published in a special issue of Ecopsychology.

The effect was strong enough to give a “mood boost”  to people who had recently gone through a stressful event in their life such as losing a job, coping with a serious illness, grieving the loss of a loved one and having marital problems, states a news release from University of Michigan Health.

“We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” said Dr. Sara Warber, senior author of the study. “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

For the study, researchers evaluated nearly 2,000 participants from the Walking for Health program in England, which organizes nearly 3,000 walks every week. More than 70,000 walkers participate in a year.

“Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being,” Warber said. “Group walks in local natural environments may make a potential important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions.”

Source: University of Michigan Health news release.

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