How a walk in the park can improve your mental health
Anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can occur for any number of reasons, but they often emerge when a loved one has died. While grief is a natural occurrence that’s distinct from depression, it’s not unusual for the grief over the death of a friend or family member to trigger a major depressive episode. And these conditions can worsen if the death results in family conflict, whether over the estate or other family issues.
When dealing with a mental health issue, we typically consider a number of treatments, from therapy, to medication, to increased social supports to help the person recover. These can all play a critical role in improving mental health.
But what can sometimes be overlooked are psychological improvement activities that a person can undertake themselves – ones that can have a measurable mental health benefit. One of the most surprising – and easiest to carry out – is a walk in nature, through a ravine, urban park, or rural area.
Taking a walk? Make it green
Exercise has long been proven to have significant mental health benefits. Many of us know this first hand from that “feel good” sensation after a workout. But there can be hurdles for someone suffering from a condition like depression to initiate even moderately intense exercise. These hurdles can include age, unfamiliarity with exercise routines, or just a lack of energy.
A walk – on the other hand – is something that most people can undertake quite easily. The key from a mental health perspective is to ensure that the walk takes place in a natural setting. A 2015 study compared the brain activity of people who walked 90 minutes through an urban setting to those who walked for the same length of time through a natural setting with trees and vegetation. The nature walkers showed significantly lower activity in the portion of the brain linked to ruminations, which can be a key contributor to depression and anxiety.
This isn’t the first study to show the link between time in nature and better mental health – and the science is strong. The Canadian Mental Health Association – Ontario has even funded park walks for youth with mental health issues, suggesting that nature walks are truly a beneficial activity for all ages.