Mental health can be boost by just five minutes of exercise in a “green space” like a park, researchers claim.
There is growing evidence that combining activities such as walking or cycling with nature boosts well-being.
In the latest analysis, UK researchers looked at evidence from 1,250 people in 10 studies. They found fast improvements in mood and self-esteem.
According to the study in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, the strongest impact was on young people.
The research looked at many different outdoor activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming in locations like a park, garden or nature trail.
The biggest effect was seen within just five minutes.
The study found that the positive effects were clearly apparent yet of a smaller magnitude with longer periods of time exercising in a green environment.
Comparing the effects on men and women of different ages, the researchers found the health changes – physical and mental – were particularly strong in the young and the mentally-ill.
‘A short walk at lunchtime’
A bigger effect was also seen with exercise in an area that also contained water : a lake or river.
According to study leader Jules Pretty, “green exercise” would benefit the most to those who were generally inactive, or stressed, or with mental illness.
“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 added that exercise programmes outdoors could benefit youth offenders.
“A challenge for policy makers is that policy recommendations on physical activity are easily stated but rarely adopted widely.”
To Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, the research is yet further evidence that even a short period of green exercise can provide a low cost and drug-free therapy in order to help improve mental wellbeing.
“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.”
Mind runs a grant scheme for local environmental projects to help people with mental illness get involved in outdoor activities.