Green exercise boost to mental health, say researchers

As little as five minutes' exercise in natural setting provides benefits according to study

by Simon_MacMichael   May 3, 2010  

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One of the joys of cycling is riding along a quiet country road, surrounded by nature, enough to put a smile on a bike rider’s face on even the most miserable of days. Now, a new study has found that as little as five minutes’ exercise in a green environment can provide a significant boost to mental health.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, was led by Professor Jules Pretty of the University of Essex and found that undertaking activities such as cycling or walking in a natural setting led to rapid improvement in mood and self-esteem.

Researchers surveyed 1,250 people of all ages in ten studies, with subjects taking part in outdoor activities including cycling, walking, horse-riding, fishing, boating and farming.

They discovered that the greatest boost was seen among young people as well as those who are mentally ill, with the biggest difference observed within just five minutes. While those exercising for longer in a green environment also benefited, the gains were smaller in scale, according to the study. The impact was also higher among those taking part in exercise in an area with water, such as a river or lake.

Professor Pretty, who has written extensively on the importance of people’s relationship with nature, was quoted by BBC News as saying that people who led stressful or inactive lifestyles or suffered from mental illness were best-placed to benefit from “green exercise.”

"Employers, for example, could encourage staff in stressful workplaces to take a short walk at lunchtime in the nearest park to improve mental health," he said, adding that outdoor exercise could also benefit young offenders, for example.

However, he cautioned that "a challenge for policy makers is that policy recommendations on physical activity are easily stated but rarely adopted widely."

Meanwhile, Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said that the study provided further proof that even a little exercise in a green environment could be used as a cost-effective way of improving mental wellbeing without resorting to drugs.

"It's important that people experiencing depression can be given the option of a range of treatments, and we would like to see all doctors considering exercise as a treatment where appropriate," he added.