We all know a stroll in the park can do us the world of good when it comes to calming down our stress levels but chances are, we’re not doing enough of it. Get out for some fresh air, go and stretch your legs – these are all activities we normally associate with our wellbeing, but a big new study has proven that a simple walk can have enormously positive effects on our mental health.
According to the study conducted by the University of Michigan, group nature walks in particular are linked with significantly lower rates of depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. Fantastic news for those of us who find the idea of running a marathon stomach churning. A walk in nature will do!
In an attempt to examine whether there was any noticeable truth to what we think we know already, the researchers evaluated 1,991 participants from the Walking for Health program in England, which, as per Science Daily, helps to organise nearly 3,000 weekly walks and draws a crowd of more than 70,000 regular walkers a year. They found that those who had spoken of difficult times, be it a bereavement, dealing with the loss of a job or any number of stressors, reported an improved sense of wellbeing after their walk.
Commenting on the study, senior author Sara Warber said: “We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being… Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”
Furthermore, Warber added: “Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being… Group walks in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions.”
So while a walk on your own may lead you to dwell more on your problems, perhaps if this study is anything to go by, a walk with a friend or two may actually lift your spirits and give you long lasting benefits. Combining the endorphins from the exercise, the healing powers of energy and the benefits of social interaction, not to mention the fact that you can do this anywhere and it doesn’t cost you a penny, we can’t think of an easier, more productive stress buster.