Walk Away Your Blues – New Study Shows How Time Walking in Nature Helps You Feel Better
Feeling blue? Overwhelmed? Or does a serious life-challenge have you down? Then go for a walk or run in nature today. Better-yet, make it a part of a daily habit or routine and you’ll see some amazing results!
In addition to my athletic coaching, for years I’ve coached students and adults with Attention Deficit Disorder and other similar challenges. For nearly 30 years myself, I struggled with ADHD, challenged by an over-active mind, I was plagued with stressful feelings and loads of negative self-talk. Fortunately, I’ve done a lot of rewiring since then, particularly through mindfulness techniques I now teach others.
Before I learned how to cope with a hyper-active mind though, I found solace out in nature. I’d spent lots of time in the outdoors, whether hiking, running, or mountain biking, and I’d always feel better afterwards.
A big part of that success, and what I recommend for nearly all of my clients, is going out on daily walks or runs in nature, preferably at the same time each day and ideally around sunrise or sunset. This helps reset the mind, re-syncs one with the natural cycles of nature—the 24 hour clock, helping us to sleep better, relax, de-stress the mind and feel more positive.
Ideally, this is done without headphones on, focusing directly on the experience—in essence walking or running mindfully, and diving straight into nature.
Now studies are coming out that support what I’ve been teaching, including a huge study of nearly 2000 participants done by the University of Michigan in combination with the University in Ormskirk, England, and published in the September issue of Ecopsychology.
Researchers evaluated 1,991 participants from the Walking for Health program in England, which helps facilitate nearly 3,000 weekly walks and draws more than 70,000 regular walkers a year.
The results, people felt better after walking in nature, and in particular, people who had recently experienced stressful life events such as a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation or unemployment saw a mood boost after their walks.
The evaluation found that individuals who took part in group walks in nature had significantly lower depression and perceived stress, as well as greater mental well-being compared to individuals who did not take part in group walks.
“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,”
says senior author Sara Warber, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the U-M Medical School and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.
“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.”
Co-author Dr Katherine Irvine, who is a senior researcher within the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, said:
“We have all at one point or another been told that ‘getting outside’ or ‘taking a walk’ are good for us. Our findings provide further insight into how this might be beneficial for our mood and for our mental well-being.”
“This study suggests that making the time to take a group walk in those natural areas – be they a local park or further afield – could be a wonderful stress-buster.”
Dr. Katherine Irvine adds,
“With the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, it is important to find accessible, relatively simple ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being.”
And Dr. Warber stresses the importance of these findings,
“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.”
We could all use decreased stress. And we can all benefit from improved emotions.
Especially in the city, where access to greenery is limited, I believe the importance of spending time walking or running in nature, cannot be overstated. Nor can the importance of finding your own local get-away or greenery to go to, whether it’s a river trail, a path through a park, or the nearest forest preserve just outside your town. We all have greenery around us, we just to find it, and then make a habit of getting ourselves there.
So get out and go for a walk or run today. Carve out a regular time and make it a part of your daily routine. And if you want to feel great, skip that sidewalk run, and head straight for your local park or favorite trail. The more greenery, the better. Your body, mind and soul will thank you for it!
Top Photo Credit: Tom Kemp via Flickr
“Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study“, Marselle Melissa R., Irvine Katherine N., and Warber Sara L.. Ecopsychology. September 2014, 6(3): 134-147. doi:10.1089/eco.2014.0027.
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