If you keep feeling low all the time, you will never know when you free-fall into depression. However, there is a simple way to lift your spirits and protect your mental health. Moreover, it’s free! All you have to do is take a walk in the park! It even works for clinically depressed individuals.
In a recent study Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, with partners from the University of Michigan and Stanford University, found that walking in nature bestows cognitive benefits.
For the study, the researchers recruited people who were diagnosed with clinical depression. The experiment involved walking in a quiet nature setting and also in a noisy urban setting.
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 experience from their lives. They were then randomly assigned to go for an hour-long walk in a nearby park or in a place with heavy traffic. They followed a prescribed route and wore a GPS watch to ensure compliance.
After completing their walk, the participants completed a series of mental tests to measure their attention and short-term/working memory and were re-assessed for mood. A week later, the participants repeated the entire procedure, walking in the location that was not visited in the first session.
It was found that all participants exhibited a 16 per cent 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. Dr. Berman says this suggests that separate brain mechanisms may underlie the cognitive and mood changes of interacting with nature.
However, in a 2008 study, Dr. Berman showed that adults who were not diagnosed with any illness received a mental boost after an hour-long walk in a woodland park—improving their performance on memory and attention tests by 20 per cent—compared to an hour-long stroll in a noisy urban environment. The findings were reported by many reputed publications.