RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The next time you're looking for a natural mood elevator, turn to nature itself. Research published last year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology confirms what anyone who's experienced a sunny-day high already knows: Nature is almost foolproof at boosting your mood and self-esteem. And, amazingly, it only takes five minutes.
THE DETAILS: Professor Jules Pretty and colleagues at the University of Essex in the UK analyzed findings from 10 separate studies that measured self-esteem and mood after people engaged in "green exercise": cycling, walking, running, gardening, farming, and water-based activities like fishing or sailing. In each of the studies, participants' self-esteem and mood were measured before and after the activities using a standard psychological test. The Essex researchers also assessed study variables such as exposure time outdoors, exercise intensity, type of green space (urban parks, rural setting, forest, and so forth), as well as subjects’ age and mental-health status.
Regardless of what they were doing or where they were doing it, all subjects saw improvements in self-esteem and mood after exercising outdoors. People saw the greatest self-esteem changes while doing light-intensity exercise and after being outside for just five minutes. The biggest mood changes occurred after light- and vigorous-intensity workouts—also after just five minutes. (Note: Self-esteem and mood continued to improve with longer workouts, but the changes were greatest after five minutes.) Around water seemed the most uplifting places to exercise, and while all age groups saw mood and self-esteem boosts, people between the ages of 30 and 50 experienced the greatest lift.
WHAT IT MEANS: "For 300,000 generations, humans were hunter-gatherers and farmers,” says Pretty. “Yet for the last six to eight generations, we have been living in an increasingly industrialized world. The disconnection from nature is deeply felt." Which is why a mere five minutes of nature can have such a profound impact, he says. "That small amount of time makes more sense when you see it in the context of where people are coming from—stepping outside from a stressful day, for example," he says. In many cases, the effect can be almost immediate; your mood lifts as if by magic.