Findings show that taking a five minute walk in a natural setting can significantly boost mood and self-esteem. A study from the American Chemical Society's semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology finds that five minutes spent exercising in a natural setting, something the study authors call “green exercise”, can improve mental health, mood and self-esteem.
Jules Pretty and Jo Barton explain that until now no one knew how much time spent exercising in a nature setting was needed to improve mental health. "For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health," Pretty said.
Activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming were analyzed in the study. The findings showed that everyone benefited from green exercise, especially the young and mentally ill, and the largest boost to self esteem came from five minutes of green exercise.
"We know from the literature that short-term mental health improvements are protective of long-term health benefits," Pretty said. "So we believe that there would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate more with green exercise," says Barton.
From a public health perspective, the findings are important. The study authors suggest a focus from policy makers who issue exercise guidelines that could be incorporated into public policy. Physical activity should become inevitable, and not a matter of choice, and could be accomplished through policies that address physical, social and natural environment changes that “naturally” encourage green exercise and improved mental health. The economic benefits could be substantial, say the authors.
In Charlotte, green exercise is as easy as taking a walk on the McMullen Park Greenway.
Environmental Science & Technology: DOI: 10.1021/es101129n