Small Doses of Daily Outdoor Exercise Boost Mood and Self Esteem, Study Shows

Spending just five minutes a day on any outdoor activitywalking along a tree-lined street, running through a park, cycling along a pondcan have a notable effect on mental health, a new study shows. Going outside and moving (even moderately) improved both self-esteem and mood. People who exercised near a lake, stream, or other body of water saw the largest effect.

University of Essex researchers Jules Pretty and Jo Barton looked at 10 studies involving 1,252 people in the U.K. The green exercise the participants took part in ranged from gardening at university farms to sailing activities for young offender groups. All of the activity improved self-esteem and mood. Most surprising to the researchers was that the strongest response was seen almost immediately, ES&T reports.

From ES&T:

“You get a very substantial benefit from the first five minutes. We should be encouraging people in busy and stressed environments to get outside regularly, even for short bits of time,” says Pretty. After that, increased green exercise continues to add benefit, but with decreasing returns. However, a full day of activity causes another spike in the level of benefit. Both healthy people and those with mental health disorders benefited, with the mentally ill showing the strongest improvement in self-esteem.
The greatest change in self-esteem was seen in the youngest participants, with diminishing effects for mood, the least change was in the young and old, the researchers report in Environmental Science & Technology.
Soaking up nature can also make us nicer. Earlier this year, University of Rochester compared the effect of natural and unnatural environments, and discovered that nature can actually make people more caring.

From Audubon

The key, as the old saying goes, is to stop and smell the roses. For technophiles, that means leaving the iPod at home from time to time. “If you’re in your head not paying attention to natural elements around you, it’s not going to have much of an effect,” says Richard Ryan.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence of nature’s positive effects. A recent Dutch study, for instance, found that people who live within 0.6 miles of a park or wooded area experience less anxiety and depression. “It can be hard to make an argument for parks or green space,” says Ryan. “These studies show nature’s value.”