World Mental Health Day: How nature-based activities improve mood, reduces anxiety

A study revealed that nature-blended activities, including gardening, lasting for 20 to 90 minutes, and continued over the course of eight to 12 weeks, have the most positive result for bettering mood and mitigating anxiety.
The University of York-led study findings showed that nature-based interventions (NBIs) support people to get involved with ecology in a structured way to enhance mental health.(Shutterstock)
The University of York-led study findings showed that nature-based interventions (NBIs) support people to get involved with ecology in a structured way to enhance mental health.(Shutterstock)
Published on Oct 10, 2021 06:23 PM IST
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Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Avik Roy, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Outdoor activities, which involve nature, such as gardening and exercise, have been found to improve mental health in adults – including those with pre-existing mental health problems, a new study has revealed.

The research for the study was led by the University of York, Great Britain, and its findings were published in the journal SSM-Population Health. It showed that these nature-based, outdoor activities resulted in improved mood, less anxiety and also positive emotions.

What did the study find?

According to the study, activities lasting for 20 to 90 minutes, and continued over the course of eight to 12 weeks, have the most positive result for bettering mood and mitigating anxiety.

It was also found that engaging in conservation activities was also revealed to make people feel better, similar to the effects of forest bathing – stopping in a forest to absorb the atmosphere.

To sum up, the study findings showed that these nature-based interventions (NBIs) support people to get involved with ecology in a structured way to enhance mental health.

How was the research conducted?

For the study, researchers screened 14,321 NBI records and analysed 50 studies. Peter Coventry from the department of health sciences, who is the lead author of the study, said that it is not a novelty that “being in nature is good for health and wellbeing,” but the findings “reinforce the growing evidence” regarding the association of activities in nature with large gains in mental health.

“While doing these activities on your own is effective, among the studies we reviewed it seems that doing them in groups led to greater gains in mental health,” Coventry noted.

What new avenues do the study open up?

The research, albeit found less evidence about outdoor activities contributing to better physical health, has recommended that there must be more apt ways to measure the short and longer-term impact of nature.

The study emphasised that to address the demand for mental health support following the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a requirement for substantial, and sustained investment in the community and place-based solutions – such as nature-based interventions.

“One of the key ideas that might explain why nature-based activities are good for us is that they help to connect us with nature in meaningful ways that go beyond passively viewing nature,” Coventry added.

Who is behind the research?

Along with Coventry, the research has been co-authored by Piran White (also from University of York), and forms part of the new 'Environment and Health' research theme, supported by the York Environmental Sustainability Institute (YESI). The duo is now working with partners at the University of Central Lancashire to understand the health benefits of green social prescribing.

The study has also been contributed by the academics from the department of health sciences, department of environment and geography, YESI, Hull York Medical School and Stockholm Environment Institute at York.

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