This is not one of those counterintuitive, huh-that-doesn’t-make-sense studies: New research in the journal Ecopsychology suggests that group nature walks may be an effective means of cheering people up and reducing their stress levels.
The University of Michigan press release accompanying the study explains that 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.”
Here’s what they found:
People who had recently experienced stressful life events like a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation or unemployment especially saw a mood boost after outdoor 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.
Given that exercise and social interaction are both natural mood-boosters, it shouldn’t come as a shock that combining the two is effective as well. But this is still a useful reminder that how we plan our cities can have psychological consequences (when you live in megasprawl, it’s not easy to get to nature), and that while severe depression or anxiety can’t simply be walked away, there are basic everyday things that most people can do to feel a little bit happier.