'Green exercise' and mental health

Posted 14th June 2010

This excerpt is from NHS Choices Website

“Five minutes exercising in the countryside boosts mental health,” reported The Daily Telegraph. It said a study has found that “exercising in wilderness areas or near water tended to have the biggest impact on mental state” and that “the greatest health changes were seen in the young and the mentally-ill”.

This news report is based on research that pooled the results of 10 studies from the University of Essex on the effect of outdoor exercise in green environments on self-esteem and mood. It has a number of limitations, including the fact that all the studies came from the same institution, and more robust results may have been achieved by systematically searching for and pooling all research addressing the same question.

Also, the pooled studies did not include control groups, so it is not clear whether these improvements would have occurred naturally over time, or if gym exercise or other leisure activities would have similar results.

Physical activity is known to be beneficial for health, including mental health. Ideally, individuals should take part in physical activity that they enjoy, which may include outdoor exercise.

Where did the story come from?

The research was carried out by Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty from the University of Essex. No sources of funding were reported within the journal article. The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express and BBC News reported this study. Although these news sources describe the results of the research accurately, they do not point out its limitations. The Daily Mail’s headline “Forget the gym! An open-air workout can work wonders for the mind” may imply that this study found that an open-air workout was better for mental health than a gym workout, which was not the case.

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