A recent analysis of 10 studies that involved more than 1,250 participants found that physical activity in the presence of nature—known as “green exercise”—has a tremendous influence on mental health. The positive effects on self-esteem and mood were magnified when people were actively engaged in a physical task (e.g., walking, gardening, cycling) near a body of water.
One of the more interesting discoveries is that it only took five minutes (!) of movement in a park, along a trail, or in a garden to achieve the greatest effect on mental health.
Jo Barton and Jules Pretty at the University of Essex, authors of the study, explain some of the implications, especially for the treatment of stress, depression, and other types of mental anguish. An excerpt:
The results show acute short-term exposures to facilitated green exercise improves both self-esteem and mood irrespective of duration, intensity, location, gender, age, and health status….
The findings also suggest that those who are currently sedentary, nonactive, and/or mentally unwell would accrue health benefits if they were able to undertake regular, short-duration physical activity in accessible (probably nearby) green space. Such doses of nature will contribute to immediate mental health benefits. As with smoking, giving up inactivity and urban-only living results in immediate and positive health outcomes, even from short duration and light activity such as walking….
The outcomes do suggest a new priority for frontline environmental and health professionals—a regime of doses of nature may be prescribed for anyone, but will have a greater effect for the inactive or stressed and mentally ill, or at presurgery (source) or for recovery (source). Employers, for example, could encourage staff in stressful workplaces to take a short walk at lunchtime in the nearest park to improve mental health, which may in turn affect productivity. A particular focus should be on children: regular outdoor play brings immediate health benefits, and may instill healthy behaviors early in life (source)…. And outdoor free-play is vital for development and cognitive skills (source).
“What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis.”
Jo Barton and Jules Pretty
Environmental Science & Technology, Article ASAP
Publication Date (Web): March 25, 2010