Boosting Your Mood Is a Walk in the Park

PureInsight | May 31, 2007

Dr. John Briffa, Special to The Epoch Times

I'm a great believer in the health-boosting capacity of regular
activity - both for body and mind. I was therefore interested to read
today the results of a study conducted by a team of researchers at the
University of Essex, which looked at the effects walking can have on

The study involved comparing the effects of taking a 30-minute walk in
either the countryside or a shopping center. After the country walk, 71
percent of participants reported feeling less depressed or tense, and
80 percent reported an improved sense of self-esteem. In comparison,
only 45 percent experienced a decrease in depression after walking in a
shopping center, while 50 percent reported feeling more tense, and 44
percent reckoned their self esteem had actually gone down.

I have not seen any statistical analysis of this study, but on the face
of it, this research does look like it supports the use of walking in
green spaces for those keen to maintain their mental health. This
research is particularly timely when one considers that prescribing
antidepressants is at an all-time high in the U.K. According to the
mental health charity MIND, 31 million prescriptions for
antidepressants were written by general practitioners last year - up 6
percent on last year's tally.

MIND is saying that "ecotherapy" has the potential to help millions of
people with depression. Advantages include the fact that it is vastly
cheaper than antidepressant drugs, has no side effects, and is readily
available. A MIND spokesman is quoted as saying: "We're not saying that
ecotherapy can replace drugs, but that the debate needs to be

There are a number of features about walking in nature, which might
have mood-elevating effects. For instance, I remember reading a couple
of years ago about how volatile compounds released from trees can have
positive effects on health. Another factor that is likely to play a
part in the natural antidepressant effects of connecting with nature is

One effect that sunlight has is the manufacture of vitamin D in the
skin. Research has found that this nutrient actually has the potential
to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - sometimes referred to as
the "winter blues" or "winter depression." In one study, just five days
of treatment with vitamin D (at a dose of 400 or 800 IU per day) was
found to improve winter mood.

Further evidence for the potential for vitamin D to alleviate SAD came
from research in which individuals were treated with either 600 or
4,000 IU of vitamin D each day for at least six months. Both dosages of
vitamin D led to improvements in the participants' mood and general
well-being, with those on the higher dose of vitamin D benefiting the

There may, of course, be ways in which sunlight can improve mood that
has nothing to do with vitamin D. Whatever the precise mechanism,
though, the important thing here is that the recent research on
"ecotherapy" reminds us that elevating our moods could be as easy as
taking a walk in the park.


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