Feeling depressed How a walk in the park could lift your mood
Walking in a park gave a boost which wasn't repeated on an urban walk



16:25 GMT, 15 May 2012

Get back to nature: A walk in a rural setting was found to increase memory skills among depressed patients

Get back to nature: A walk in a rural setting was found to increase memory skills among depressed patients

Dealing with depression could literally be a walk in the park, according to a new study.

Scientists claim strolling through nature could have psychological benefits.

In one of the first ever studies to see if nature walks have an effect on the mood of people with depression, researchers have discovered a walk in the park could provide cognitive benefits.

The research is part of a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which proposes people concentrate better after spending time in nature or looking at natural scenes.

According to ART, people interacting with peaceful nature settings are not bombarded with external distractions that relentlessly tax their working memory and attention systems.

In a natural setting, the brain can relax and enter a state of contemplativeness that helps restore or refresh those cognitive capacities.

In 2008, Dr Marc Berman, of the Rotman Research Institute, Canada, showed adults, who were not diagnosed with any illness, received a mental boost after an hour-long walk in a woodland park.

Their performance on memory and attention tests were improved by 20 per cent, compared to an hour stroll in a noisy urban environment.

In the latest study, Dr Berman explored whether a nature walk would provide similar cognitive benefits, improving the mood of people with clinical depression.

They studied 20 people with clinical depression, 12 women and eight men with an average age of 26, for a two-part experiment that involved walking in a quiet nature setting and in a noisy urban setting.

Before their walks, participants completed testing to determine their cognitive and mood status, and were asked to think about an unresolved, painful memory.

They were then told to go for an hour long walk in a woodland park, or stroll along a busy downtown street – the route was mapped out and they wore a GPS watch to ensure they went to the right place.

After their walk was completed, they took part in a series of mental tests to measure their attention and short term/working memory to re-assess their mood.

A week later, the participants repeated the entire study but went for a walk in the location they had not visited in the first experiment.

As depression sufferers are characterised by high levels of rumination and negative thinking, researchers were sceptical a solitary walk in the park would provide any benefit at all, and may actually worsen memory and exaggerate their depressed mood.

But results showed sufferers had a 16 per cent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk compared to the urban walk.

Interacting with nature did not elevate depressive mood over urban walks, as negative mood decreased and positive mood increased after both walks to a significant and equal extent.

Writing for the Journal of Affective Disorders, Dr Berman said: 'Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment.

'Walking in nature may act to supplement or enhance existing treatments for clinical depression, but more research is needed to understand just how effective nature walks can be to help improve psychological functioning.'

He warned that such walks are not a replacement for existing and well-validated treatments for clinical depression, such as psychotherapy and drug treatment.