A 30-Minute Walk In A Natural Environment May Reduce Risks Of Depression, High Blood Pressure

First Posted: Jun 29, 2016 07:11 AM EDT

Spending time with nature is always a good way to release stress. However, not a lot of people know how much or how often this should be done and how it can affect one's health. A new study has found that spending 30 minutes a week outdoor, regardless if it's just a stroll in the park with your dog, or finding new trails to high, is enough to reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and depression.

According to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of Queensland found that people living in the city who try to spend time in "green spaces" once a week were more at ease socializing with people.

"If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week, there would be 7 percent fewer cases of depression and 9 percent fewer cases of high blood pressure," says ecologist Danielle Shanahan from the University of Queensland.

For the study, Shanahan and her team looked at data from 1,538 people living in the city of Brisbane, Queensland, who were questioned about their weekly habits regarding nature and physical activity. Then their mental and health status were evaluated based on the data they have given.

Science Alert reported that the participants' nature experiences were gauged using three factors: how often they visit "green spaces" each year, the average time they spend in the park during their weekly visits, and the intensity of nature in these spaces - measured by the amount and complexity of greenery in that space.

The team identified health risks for the group which was determined via a standardized test that identified mild or worse depression, anxiety or stress, and recording who has had treatment for high blood pressure. Individual perception of social cohesion, meaning how willing someone is to cooperate with others in a social situation, was also check based on answers to a survey that measured like trust, reciprocal exchange within communities, and general community cohesion.

Results showed that people who made regular visits to green spaces had lower incidence of depression and high blood pressure. These people also had greater social cohesion.

"Higher levels of physical activity were linked to both duration and frequency of green space visits," they concluded. "A dose-response analysis for depression and high blood pressure suggest that visits to outdoor green spaces of 30 minutes or more during the course of a week could reduce the population prevalence of these illnesses by up to 7 percent and 9 percent respectively."

Researchers also explained that there were limitations in the study, said that the two biggest limitations were participants were the ones who reported their outdoor activities, so the results could be biased, and that the researchers can only show a link between exposure to nature and health benefits, meaning that they were not able to analyze the biological changes that happened inside the participant that could have explained the connection.

However, the findings of this study aren't new. They were built on a great deal of scientific literature that discovered real benefits to the simple act of getting outside every once in a while.

In July 2015, a similar study by researchers from the Stanford University revealed that a 90-minute walk through a natural environment could change the participants' brain activity related to 'rumination' which are repetitive thoughts focused on negative aspects of the self, which could potentially lead to a rise in the risk for depression.

Peter Dockrill explained last year's study saying: "By performing brain scans on the walkers before and after the expedition, the team found that neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain that's active during rumination - had decreased in the volunteers who explored the natural environment. Their experience was consistent with this finding, with the group reporting that they found themselves ruminating less during the walk."

So if you can make changes to your activities, make sure you include something that involves nature.

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