Researchers from Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, the University of Michigan and Stanford University teamed up for a study that suggests that when paired with therapy, nature walks have positive cognitive benefits for individuals struggling with major depression.

“Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature [as compared with] a walk in a busy urban environment,” said study leader Marc Berman. “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.”

The researchers recruited 20 individuals with a diagnosis of clinical depression who participated in a two-part experiment that involved walking in a quiet, nature setting as well as a noisy, urban one:

“Prior to the walks, participants completed baseline testing to determine their cognitive and mood status. Before beginning a walk, the participants were asked to think about an unresolved, painful autobiographical experience. They were then randomly assigned to go for an hour-long walk in the Ann Arbor Arboretum (woodland park) or traffic heavy portions of downtown Ann Arbor. They followed a prescribed route and wore a GPS watch to ensure compliance. After completing their walk, they completed a series of mental tests to measure their attention and short-term/working memory and were reassessed for mood. A week later the participants repeated the entire procedure, walking in the location that was not visited in the first session. Participants exhibited a 16 percent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk relative to the urban walk. Interestingly, interacting with nature did not alleviate depressive mood to any noticeable degree over urban walks, as negative mood decreased and positive mood increased after both walks to a significant and equal extent.”

Previous studies have found that spending time outside can increase one’s overall sense of well-being and even reduce the severity of ADHD.

Source: Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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