Most of us are well aware of the positive aspects spending a few minutes outside provides. In addition to sunshine exposure, causing the production of Vitamin D, a critical nutrient/hormone, an interesting study confirms that outdoor exercise creates the greatest improvement in mood and personal well-being. The new study was published in the American Chemical Society's semi-monthly journal Environmental Science & Technology has a surprising answer.
Just five minutes of exercise in a park, working in a backyard garden, on a nature trail, or other green space will benefit mental health.
Jules Pretty and Jo Barton explain in the study that green exercise is physical activity in the presence of nature. Abundant scientific evidence shows that activity in natural areas decreases the risk of mental illness and improves the sense of well-being. Until now, however, nobody knew how much time people had to spend in green spaces to get those and other benefits.
"For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health," Pretty said.
The study analyzed over 1250 people previously evaluated in one of ten studies conducted in England. The authors were able to demonstrate that outdoor activity involving nature caused physical and mental health improvements.
They analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. The greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally-ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments were beneficial including parks in urban settings. Green areas with water added something extra. A blue and green environment seems even better for health, Pretty noted.
The most significant positive effect on self-esteem came from a five-minute dose.
"We know from the literature that short-term mental health improvements are protective of long-term health benefits," Pretty said. "So we believe that there would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate more with green exercise," added Barton.