How Exercising Outdoors Can Help Fight Stress, Depression And Anxiety

Whilst there are many known psychological therapies, medical treatments and alternative therapies available for stress, anxiety and depression, it now seems a traditional form of therapy overlooked in modern society may prove to be a valuable tool for those suffering.

nature-walk

The Power Of Nature

One in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year whilst almost half (45%) Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. [source]

Whilst there are many known psychological therapies, medical treatments and alternative therapies available for stress, anxiety and depression, it now seems a traditional form of therapy overlooked in modern society may prove to be a valuable tool for those suffering.

Current Research
New research is now showcasing how anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues including stress, may all be eased by time in the great outdoors, especially when that’s combined with exercise.

In 2012, a study found that walks in the forest were specifically associated with decreased levels of anxiety and bad moods. It was stated that “nature may be useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments for MDD”, Major Depressive Disorder. [source]

Furthermore, evidence of a multi-study shows green exercise (activity in the presence of nature) leads to positive short and long-term health outcomes. This multi-study analysis assessed the best regime of dose(s) of acute exposure to green exercise required to improve self-esteem and mood, known as indicators of mental health. The analysis of 10 earlier studies showed “every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood; the presence of water generated greater effects,” with self-esteem improving especially for those with mental illnesses. [source] [source]

Shinrin-yoku
Developed in Japan during the 1980s, Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing”. This is where a person takes a relaxing walk in nature.

After a large body of researcher was established in Japan and South Korea showcasing the many health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest, the concept was heavily adopted as a form of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

What is nature therapy?
Nature therapy is based on the idea that visiting a natural area (eg. Woodlands, parklands or large bodies of water) and can lead to numerous calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits. [source]

Whilst many of us know the benefits of being in nature intuitively, our modern urbanised lives have caused us to lose touch with this natural and powerful medicine. Luckily, many of these studies have shown that even short-term contact with nature can have a significant positive effect on mood.

Benefits
Research supported benefits of Shinrin-yoku include:

  • Boosted immune system functioning
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

[source]

Where does exercise come in?
Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not exercise regularly, whilst other trials have shown that regular exercise of moderate intensity can be an effective adjudicative treatment by itself.

According to Blackdog Institute, a recent study found that an increase of physical activity from inactive to three times a week resulted in a 20% decrease of the risk of depression over a five year period. [source]

In 2007, a study assigned 202 participants whom had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, with one of the following four treatments:

  • individual home exercise (aerobic exercise)
  • group exercise (aerobic exercise)
  • antidepressant medication (sertraline – an SSRI)
  • a placebo (sugar pill)

After 16 weeks of their prescribed treatment, the study showed that the placebo was the least effective, whilst the home based exercise and group exercise had similar remission rates to the antidepressant medication.

Why combine exercise and the outdoors?
A systematic review carried out in 2011 concluded that exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression when compared with exercising indoors. [source]

How to combine the two?
There are many ways to combine exercising with the outdoors, including:

  • Walking meetings
  • Hiking
  • Surfing
  • Team sports
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Group fitness classes
  • Athletics
  • Paddleboarding
  • Trail running
  • Horse riding
  • Stair walking
  • Kayaking
  • High rope / Adventure parks

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