(NaturalNews) Just five minutes of exercise in a natural place is enough to significantly improve mood and mental health, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Essex and published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
"It's important that people experiencing depression can be given the option of a range of treatments, and we would like to see all doctors considering exercise as a treatment where appropriate," said Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health nonprofit Mind.
Mind distributes grants to local environmental projects that run outdoor activities for people with mental illness.
Researchers compared the results of 10 different studies on a total of 1,250 participants, examining the mental health effects of outdoor activities such as walking, cycling, gardening, fishing, boating, farming and horseback riding. They found that within five minutes, people engaging in exercise in a "green" setting such as a park, garden or nature trail experienced significant improvements in mood and self-esteem.
Although the effect persisted during longer bouts of exercise, the biggest improvement in mood was seen in the first five minutes.
"Self-esteem and mood are strong indicators of good mental health, and also, in the long-term, of good physical health," said lead researcher Jules Pretty.
Other effects measured included improvement in levels of stress, blood pressure and stress hormones.
Exercise in green spaces was significantly more effective than exercise in urban surroundings. The effect was strongest in places that had water, and among those who were younger or mentally ill.
Pretty suggested that employers at stressful workplaces could encourage their employees to take lunchtime walks in nearby parks. Similar programs might prove helpful with youth offenders, as well.
"A challenge for policy makers is that policy recommendations on physical activity are easily stated but rarely adopted widely," he said.
A major advantage of "green exercise," he noted, is that it is drug free and very low cost.