Nature exposure during exercise and nature therapy may improve mental health

1. In this prospective study, the impact of exercise in nature and nature therapy was measured in young adults who reported feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. Both nature therapy and exercise in nature resulted in improved mental health, although nature therapy had a greater positive effect.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)

Lockdown measures during the COVID-19 pandemic have been associated with increases in stress, anxiety, and depression. Nature therapy and frequent exposure to nature may improve mental health in those experiencing negative mental health outcomes during isolation periods.

This prospective study evaluated changes in mental wellbeing associated with nature exposure during exercise and nature therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were randomized to either a nature-exercise (perform physical exercise in a nature setting) or nature therapy group. The nature-exercise and nature therapy groups followed specific programming. Inclusion criteria included adults aged 18-40 who reported increased depression, anxiety, and stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were excluded if they did not have access to an urban greenery. Study outcomes evaluated the mental health status of participants pre- and post-intervention using the depression, anxiety, and stress scale – 21 items (DASS-21).

A total of 30 participants were included, 15 in each group. Participants who lived in regions with severe lockdown measures reported worse mental health at baseline. Overall, both nature-exercise and nature therapy were associated with significant improvements in stress, anxiety, and depression. Although, nature therapy was more effective in improving mental health status. The present study was limited due to small sample size, lack of control group, and because participants were not monitored during activities for compliance to programming. Nonetheless, this study suggested that nature exposure may represent an inexpensive means of improving mental health, particularly during COVID-19.

Click to read the study in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening

Image: PD

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