Walking in Nature Beneficial to Mental Health

Those who suffer from depression often are prescribed with medication to treat their condition, but find that their symptoms may need an extra boost through an additional treatment form. Some options are therapy or the use of physical exertion to boost mood.

Another recommendation may soon be issued to those who require additional help in recovering from depression. A study by researchers at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, in partnership with the University of Michigan and Stanford University, has shown that a stroll in nature may provide a necessary boost in cognitive processes among individual who have depression.

The study is an early examination to determine how walks in nature can impact cognition and emotional state among those diagnosed with depression. The research was led by Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at the Rotman Research Institute. It is published in a recent issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The study’s findings show that after a patient with a diagnosis of depression spent time walking in nature, they exhibited an improved memory functions. This improvement was compared with the impact of an urban walk among patients with depression.

The authors of the study caution that the findings are not intended to undermine the use of therapy and drug treatment, the well-validated methods for treating depression. Dr. Berman says that, instead, a walk in nature should be viewed as a possible supplement to treatments already being used for depression.

Dr. Berman’s work is a subset of Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which is a cognitive science field that focuses on the use of nature to help people concentrate better. ART theorizes that an interaction with nature is effective because the patient is not being distracted with external cues and stimuli that make it hard on the memory and systems dedicated to attention to function. When exposed to a nature setting, the brain is more relaxed and focused on contemplativeness that rejuvenates cognitive capacities.

Dr. Berman’s previous research shows healthy adults experienced a mental state improvement after walking an hour in a wooded area. The attention and memory of these participants were boosted by about 20 percent in comparison with the benefits received by walking in an urban environment.

In the current study, researchers were not convinced whether a single walk experienced in a park could have any measurable mental impact. In fact, the researchers believed that it was possible that memory might suffer and depressed mood may increase by a solitary walk.

The researchers studied the effects on 20 individuals enrolled from the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor who each had been diagnosed with clinical depression. A baseline testing of cognition and moods was conducted and the participants then were randomly grouped to participate in a nature walk or an urban walk.

Those who were assigned to the nature walk experienced an increase of 16 percent in attention levels and memory functions when compared to those who took an urban walk.

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