Ecotherapy is all about exercising outside, in a green environment, for the purpose of boosting mental health. It could be as simple as taking a walk in a large park or spending some time gardening. According to research published by the National Association for Mental Health in the UK (Mind), ecotherapy should become a recognized treatment option for people with depression and other mental health problems. Their report, “Ecotherapy: the green agenda for mental health", is the first study commissioned to look at the benefits of “green exercise" on depression. Researchers at the University of Essex compared the effects of a 30 minute walk in a country park with the same amount of time in an indoor shopping centre. The results were very interesting.
- 71 per cent reported decreased levels of depression after the walk in the park. 22 per cent reported increased depression after walking in the shopping centre and only 45 per cent experienced a decrease.
- 71 per cent felt less tense after the park walk, while 50 per cent felt more tense after walking in the shopping centre.
- 90 per cent claimed increased self esteem after the walk in the park; 44 per cent experienced lower self esteem after the shopping centre walk.
- 88 per cent reported an improved mood after the walk in the park. This compares with 44.5 per cent for the shopping centre, while another 44.5% per cent experienced lower mood.
The University researchers were also commissioned to survey people with mental illnesses about their experiences of ecotherapy. Of the 108 surveyed, 94% said green activities had helped with their depression, and 90% said the combination of nature and exercise had the greatest effect. That's an enormous positive response!
According to the report there are four main reasons why green exercise is beneficial:
- Natural and social connections: watching wildlife, evoking good memories, spiritual feelings
- Sensory stimulation: colors and sounds, fresh air, enjoyment, escape from pollution, contrasts with urban life, being exposed to the weather
- Activity: using manual skills, physically challenging activities such as digging, cycling
- Escape from modern life: time to think and reflect, clear the head, get away from pressures and stress.
"Mind sees ecotherapy as an important part of the future for mental health. It's a credible, clinically-valid treatment option and needs to be prescribed by GPs, especially when for many people access to treatments other than antidepressants is extremely limited. We're not saying that ecotherapy can replace drugs but that the debate needs to be broadened. "
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