Physical activity in the presence of nature (green exercise) provides immediate mental health benefits for mood and self-esteem, according to a review article from the UK. The multi-study analysis assessed the impact of green exercise on mood and self-esteem to determine the most effective dose.
Ten studies from the University of Essex involving 1,252 participants showed that green exercise improves self-esteem and mood regardless of duration, intensity, location, gender, age and health status. Exposure durations of the various green exercise interventions ranged from five minutes to an entire day. The greatest changes to self-esteem and mood were found in the shortest duration of five minutes, indicating that immediate benefits can be felt at the start of green exercise. There continued to be benefit for longer periods (but with diminishing returns), and a particular increase for whole-day exposure. Exercise intensity also varied among the interventions studied; light exercise in nature provided the greatest improvements in self-esteem and mood. All types of green spaces offered improvements, but the presence of water pushed the effect even higher. Overall, there was no difference in gender. In terms of health status, people with mental illness had one of the greatest positive changes in self-esteem. The authors found a similar effect for younger people, whereas the middle-aged improved the most on the mood measure.
Based on the results, the authors suggest exposure to green exercise can benefit everyone, particularly children and youth, people with mental illness and inactive individuals. The analysis was not based on randomized trials where participants were assigned to a particular dose of green exercise, but on the experience of people who were already seeking to be active in a natural environment. The recommendations for future research include comparisons of different exercising environments (green versus nongreen) and longer-term multicohort studies to understand how long the positive effects last and if there are accumulated effects from repeat exposures.
See “What Is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis,” Environmental Science and Technology (May 2010; 44: 3947-3955), available at pubs.acs.org.
See also the report “Green Exercise May Be Good for Your Head,”Environmental Science and Technology (May 2010; 44: 3649), available at pubs.acs.org.