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Need a stress-buster? Go for a nature walk

Walks in nature are associated with greater mental wellbeing (c) James Hutton
"This study suggests that making the time to take a group walk in those natural areas – be they a local park or further afield – could be a wonderful stress-buster.

Group walks in nature are associated with greater mental wellbeing as well as lower depression and stress, an article co-authored by a James Hutton Institute researcher in Aberdeen has concluded.

This is the first enquiry to evaluate the psychological benefits of group walks on a national scale. The study looked into group walks in local natural environments across England which are part of the national ‘Walking for Health’ initiative run by Macmillan Cancer Support and The Ramblers.

Researchers studied 1,991 participants from the Walking for Health program matching group walkers and non-group walkers on various characteristics - such as age, gender, ethnicity, education and previous physical activity - in order to ensure that the only difference between the two groups was their participation in Walking for Health group walks.

The evaluation found that individuals who took part in group walks in nature had significantly lower depression and perceived stress, as well as greater mental wellbeing compared to individuals who did not take part in group walks.

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 from outdoor group walks.

Co-author Dr Katherine Irvine, who is a senior researcher within the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, said: “We have all at one point or another been told that ‘getting outside’ or ‘taking a walk’ are good for us. Our findings provide further insight into how this might be beneficial for our mood and for our mental wellbeing.”

Dr Irvine said that besides having exceptionally beautiful natural environments, Scotland is undertaking important initiatives to bring nature into our urban areas.

“This study suggests that making the time to take a group walk in those natural areas – be they a local park or further afield – could be a wonderful stress-buster.

“With the increase in mental ill health and physical inactivity in the developed world, it is important to find accessible, relatively simple ways to help people improve their long term quality of life and well-being.”

The study suggests that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group could be a non-pharmacological approach to helping people cope with stress and perhaps address more serious conditions such as depression.

Dr Irvine worked on this study with co-authors Dr Melissa Marselle, a post-doctoral researcher at Edge Hill University, and Dr Sara Warber, from the University of Michigan in the United States.

The article "Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large scale study" has been published in the journal Ecopsychology. The study has been described as “a major contribution to the field” by the journal’s editor.

On a related subject, the James Hutton Institute led research on the Green Health project, which investigated the contribution of green and open space in public health and wellbeing. Visit the project page for more information.

Notes to editors

Paper: "Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study", Marselle Melissa R., Irvine Katherine N., and Warber Sara L.. Ecopsychology. September 2014, 6(3): 134-147. doi:10.1089/eco.2014.0027. 

About Walking for Health: Together the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support run Walking for Health, helping you get and stay active. By sharing our walking and health expertise, we support 600 local schemes across England to offer short, free walks. Our aim is to help more people – including those affected by cancer – discover the joys and health benefits of walking. For more information visit www.walkingforhealth.org.uk or call 020 7339 8541

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/need-stress-buster-go-nature-walk on 22/03/19 04:20:21 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.