(NaturalNews) Are you getting tired of your same old cardio routine at your local gym? Have you "hit a wall" with your training? New research indicates you would get a better run if you jogged with nature - and it would improve your mental state as well.
Researchers at Glasgow University, who looked at natural and non-natural environments for physical activity and examined walking, running and cycling found that working out with nature - a stroll in a park or a jog through a forest - lowered stress and improved a person's mental health by as much as 50 percent.
The data indicates that people suffering from depression and anxiety would get a net positive effect from exercising in or near woodlands, the Daily Telegraph reported in a recent edition.
The study, led by Prof. Richard Mitchell, polled some 2,000 people who were physically active and were included in the 2008 Scottish Health Survey. The results: the study found that only activities which were done outside, in a natural environment, were associated with improved mental health.
Mitchell said he was "surprised" by the results.
"There was around a 50 percent improvement in people's mental health if they were physically active in the natural environment, compared to those who weren't," he said. "These aren't serious mental health issues, more struggles in general life, things like mild depression, not being able to sleep, high stress levels or just feelings of not being able to cope."
Mitchell added, "It seems that woodland and forest seem to have the biggest effect on helping to lower mental health problems. That makes sense with what we thought we knew. That is, the brain likes to be in the natural environment and it reacts to being there by turning down our stress response. Being in areas that have lots of trees and grassy areas help to calm us down, and obviously a forest has this."
The Glasgow professor was also impressed with the level of difference in gratification between working out in a gym and running in greenery.
"I wasn't surprised by the findings that exercise in natural environments is good for your mental health, but I was surprised by just how much better it is for your mental health to exercise in a green place like a forest, than in other places like the gym," he told the paper. "The message to doctors, planners and policy makers is that these places need protecting and promoting."
He said running in or near woodlands once a week could provide some benefit, but doing so more than once a week could ultimately have a big effect.
The paper said earlier studies indicated that exercise in natural environments has a net positive effect on "biomarkers" - indicators of general health - and on a person's view of his or her stress and fatigue levels.
Mitchell said about half of the group sampled said they exercised in a natural environment at least one time the previous month.
A separate British study, the results of which were published in early June, found, however, that exercise did nothing to help reverse clinical depression.
Conflicting research regarding the mental health benefits of exercise in general?
Researchers from Bristol University and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry at Exeter University examined two groups of clinically depressed patients: Those who were treated with anti-depression medications alone and those who were treated with anti-depressants and put on an exercise program.
The results showed those who were on an additional exercise program did have some improvement in mood, but it was not statistically significant.
"Numerous studies have reported the positive effects of physical activity for people suffering from depression but our intervention was not an effective strategy for reducing symptoms," said Dr. Melanie Chalder, from Bristol University's School of Social and Community Medicine. While all the results may not be in yet, it follows that exercise makes you feel better and when you feel better, you generally feel better about yourself.