Regular exercise in a natural environment may cut the risk of suffering from poor mental health by half, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow studied the use of natural and non-natural environments for physical activity, like walking, running and cycling. They found regular use of natural environments such as forests and parks seemed to protect against mental ill-health, whilst use of non-natural environments like a gym, did not.
Previous experimental studies have shown that exercise in natural environments has a positive effect on biomarkers and self-reports of stress, on mood and reported levels of fatigue.
The observational study carried out by the Glasgow researchers and published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, was designed to look at whether such effects can be detected in the general population in every day settings.
Data from the Scottish Health Survey 2008, described the different environments in which 1890 respondents were physically active, including woodlands, parks, swimming pools, the gym, the streets and the home. The data also showed how often respondents used each environment and how physically active they were overall.
The researchers looked at the association between use of each environment and the risk of poor mental health as measured by the General Health Questionnaire. Only activity in natural environments was associated with a lower risk of poor mental health.