Exercising in Nature May Hold Unique Benefits for the Depressed

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Photo: Mike Powell

Something scientists know: Exercise can be an incredibly useful weapon in the fight against depression. Something scientists also know: It’s good for people’s mental health to, you know, venture outdoors every once in a while.

Okay, so these are both things that people with even the teensiest amount of common sense surely also know. (It’s good for humans to be outside and move their bodies!) And so the preliminary findings of a small new study are not so shocking — that for depressed people, while any form of physical activity helps, there may be some unique benefits to physical activity that happens in nature.

Again, it’s a small study, including just 14 patients at a mental-health-care facility. All of them took part in three hour-long sessions: In one, they stayed sedentary, sitting around inside reading books or playing board games. In another, they used an indoor exercise bike for an hour. And in a third session, they took a walk in some very nice-sounding greenery outside the building. Afterward, they told the researchers how they felt — and how they felt, after the outdoor exercise especially, was better. They reported feeling less depressed and less fatigued after spending some time outside, as compared to their self-reported state after either indoor activity.

Exercise — whether it’s SoulCycle or Refine Method or this strange bus-filled-with-bikes situation — is good for your body and your mind, but it seems there are some particular benefits to taking to nature for your workout. Though maybe let’s wait until we’ve found our way out of this heat-dome thing for that.