Group Walks in Nature Can Relieve Stress, Improve Mood

University of Michigan researchers have come up with a simple tonic for stress: Fresh air. Walk. Socialize.

The recommendations reflect the findings of a new large-scale study that found group nature walks were associated with lower depression and perceived stress, and enhanced mental well-being.

Investigators discovered people who had recently experienced stressful life events — such as a serious illness, death of a loved one, marital separation, or unemployment — received a significant 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.

“Walking is an inexpensive, low risk, and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, underutilized stress buster.

“Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

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.

“Given the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, we are constantly exploring new, accessible ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being,” Warber says.

“Group walks in local natural environments may make a potentially important contribution to public health and be beneficial in helping people cope with stress and experience improved emotions.”

Source: University of Michigan

Group walking in a park photo by shutterstock.