Nurture with Nature – Go Green for your Mental Health




Nature is full of wonder and splendor. Its beauty enriches the senses, calms the spirit, and challenges the mind. Once believed to have more subjective than objective benefits, scientists are beginning to quantify the tangible benefits of being exposed to the environment. According to a new study, “take a hike” may become a clinical, rather than an insulting, directive.

The authors of the new study evaluated the effects of a nature walk on 20 adults with major depressive disorder. The individuals completed baseline assessments of mood and memory span. At the participant’s first encounter, they were asked to ruminate about an unresolved negative experience in their own lives. They were then assigned to take a 50-minute walk, either in a natural setting or an urban one. After the walks, mood and memory were reassessed. One week later, the participants repeated the entire procedure, but walked in the location that they did not in the first session.

Significant improvements in mood and memory span were observed after the nature walks compared to the urban walks. Overall, the authors report that nature-based exercise could be considered a viable treatment for depressive disorders. The study is published in a recent issue of Journal of Affective Disorders.

Numerous studies have shown positive associations between green environments and physical and mental health. Exercising in nature is related to a feeling of revitalization, positive social engagement, increased energy, and decreased anxiety, confusion and depression. People who engage in outdoor activities report greater joy, satisfaction, and self-esteem compared to those who complete indoor activities, and natural environments promote exercise adherence more than indoor environments.

The restorative effects of natural environments are difficult to quantify, but the great outdoors is definitely calling. With an obesity epidemic and a generation of youngsters who barely know how to ride a bike or throw a ball, encouraging outdoor activities should be a top public health initiative of every physician, teacher, parent, and neighbor. Take a hike, stop and smell the roses, listen to the song of a bird or the babble of a brook. Go to nature to be soothed and healed.

References

Barton J, Griffin M, & Pretty J (2012). Exercise-, nature- and socially interactive-based initiatives improve mood and self-esteem in the clinical population. Perspectives in public health, 132 (2), 89-96 PMID: 22616429

Barton J, & Pretty J (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental science & technology, 44 (10), 3947-55 PMID: 20337470

Berman MG, Kross E, Krpan KM, Askren MK, Burson A, Deldin PJ, Kaplan S, Sherdell L, Gotlib IH, & Jonides J (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of affective disorders, 140 (3), 300-5 PMID: 22464936

Pretty J, Peacock J, Sellens M, & Griffin M (2005). The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise. International journal of environmental health research, 15 (5), 319-37 PMID: 16416750

Sugiyama T, Leslie E, Giles-Corti B, & Owen N (2008). Associations of neighbourhood greenness with physical and mental health: do walking, social coherence and local social interaction explain the relationships? Journal of epidemiology and community health, 62 (5) PMID: 18431834

Thompson Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, & Depledge MH (2011). Does participating in physical activity in outdoor natural environments have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors? A systematic review. Environmental science & technology, 45 (5), 1761-72 PMID: 21291246

Image via robert_s / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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