Walk on the wild side for a happier and healthier life

A recent study has confirmed what many people have believed for years – group walks in the natural environment are beneficial to both your physical and mental well-being. The findings published in the journal Ecopsychology showed that nature group walks were associated with significantly lower depression, perceived stress and negative affect, as well as enhanced mental well-being and positive affect.

The study was based on a review of a national group walk program in England, the brain child of a GP, Dr William Bird. Walking for Health is the largest network of health walk schemes and is aiming to get more people active and staying active. The program works on the assumption that people are more likely to walk if walking with another person, particularly if walking outdoors, and that the social interaction of group walking helps maintain a person’s participation in the activity.

Currently only 6% of the people taking part in nature group walks with the Walking for Health program have been referred by their doctor. With nature-based walks appearing to mitigate the effects of stressful living, the findings of this study highlight the benefits of group nature walks to GPs and other healthcare professionals and may increase rates of referral.

With the World Federation for Mental Health predicting that depression will be the primary cause of global burden of disease by 2030, and with doctors and scientists worried about the rise in obesity, cardio-vascular disease and depression, these findings provide support for national outdoor group walks programs as a public health measure. Group nature walks may be an effective measure in helping to tackle medical conditions resulting from growing physical inactivity in the population as well as helping to manage some aspects of mental ill health.

Full article: Ecopsychology Vol 6, Issue 3 p134-147. DOI:10.1089/eco.2014.0027

Photo credit: Nick Barley

 

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A nature writer and ecological advisor with wide experience of writing about wildlife and working in freshwater, marine and terrestrial environments. Website: www.phoebecarter.co.uk. Twitter: @DrPhoebeCarter

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