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A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders investigated
the relationship between walking in nature and emotional affect in
those with major depressive disorder (MDD). Compared to urban settings,
walking in nature successfully lowered levels of negative affect in
those diagnosed with MDD. These findings help with the search for
low-cost client-managed therapeutic interventions for disorders like
recent years, research findings support what many suspected, spending
time in nature is good for mental health. Much of this research has used
participants without a mental health diagnosis.
is a growing recognition that walking in nature could make us happier,”
said study author Marie-Claude Geoffroy, the Canada Research Chair in
Youth Suicide Prevention and an assistant professor at McGill
University. “Our research team, based at the Douglas Mental Health
University Institute in Montreal, investigated whether walking in nature
could help people suffering from major depression to reduce negative
study authors recognized some gaps in the research that they could
address. Few studies included individuals with mental health concerns,
but of those, none measured affect hours or days after walking in
and the research team intended to discover if walks in rural nature may
have sustained effects on affect or mood. In their words, “the present
study aims to evaluate the effects of a single 60-min walk in nature
versus urban settings on levels of negative and positive affect in adult
psychiatric outpatients with MDD.”
study utilized 37 participants who were patients at a psychiatric
outpatient clinic for individuals with difficult-to-manage MDD.
Participants were between 18 and 65, were physically able to walk, and
had MDD as their first diagnosis. Participants were randomly chosen for
one of two conditions, an urban walk or a nature walk.
walks were to last 60 minutes, the urban walk was set on a busy street
near the hospital, and the nature walk was set in a park with forests
far from city streets and traffic. Walks took place in the morning under
good weather conditions. During the walk, participants were asked to
avoid conversation with others.
hour before the walk, researchers gave subjects an iPad and asked to
complete the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). This process
was repeated during the walk and immediately after the walk. Subjects
then took the iPad home to complete PANAS again three hours after the
walk, 24 hours after the walk, and 48 hours after.
the data collected at these six different times before and after the
walk, the researchers discovered that participants who completed the
nature walk demonstrated decreases in negative affect, with no
differences in positive affect. Walking in the urban setting created
some evidence of decreasing negative affect, but it was less robust than
the walking in nature group. The decline in negative affect continued
to remain below baseline through the 48 hours post-walk.
walking in all environments had a beneficial effect on mood, the
results showed that negative feelings such as anger, sadness and stress –
generally characteristic of major depression – were more reduced after a
nature walk than after a walk in an urban environment,” Geoffroy told
findings provide evidence that “a simple walk in nature, whether in the
forest or in an urban park, is effective in relieving negative thoughts
and feelings,” Geoffroy added.
research team felt their study design strengthened their findings. The
study was a single-blind experiment, meaning the participants were
ignorant of the study’s goal to compare the impact of nature or urban
walking. They acknowledged some limitations, including the pre-walk
assessment was in an office or lab setting, not in the comfort of home.
In addition, the nature walkers had to walk to get to the nature
setting, altering their condition somewhat from the urban condition.
researchers concluded their report with the following, “altogether, our
results suggest that walking in nature might be a useful complementary
strategy to improve negative affect in the short term for individuals
diagnosed with MDD.”
The study, “The
effects of walking in nature on negative and positive affect in adult
psychiatric outpatients with major depressive disorder: A
was authored by Kia Watkins-Martin, Despina Bolanis, Stephane
Richard-Devantoy, Marie-Helene Pennestri, Catherine Malboeuf-Hurtubise,
Frederick Philippe, Julie Guindon, Jean-Philippe Gouin, Isabelle
Ouellet-Morin and Marie-Claude Geoffroy.