Why Does Time Outside Boost Your Mood?

Mother Nature rules when it comes to improving your physical and mental health. More and more, studies show what most of us know intuitively: being in and around nature just makes us feel good.

A recent paper published in Environmental Science Technology reviewed 10 earlier studies evaluating the self-esteem and mood benefits of green exercise (exercise done in nature). After only five minutes, participants showed a significant improvement in both measures. For people who are exercise-resistant, there's more good news: engaging in low-intensity exercise, such as walking, has the biggest effect on mood.

Regular engagement in green spaces contributes to longevity, positive mental health outcomes, and decreased risk of mental illness. Self-esteem (an evaluation of a person's self worth or value) and mood are both important determinants of mental health. Negative self-esteem and mood are strongly correlated with depression, social anxiety, loneliness, and alienation.

The link between green exercise and mental health holds regardless of the duration, intensity, and location, or the gender, age, and health status of participants. However, young people and those with some mental illness experience the greatest improvement. These findings were based on a short, one-time green experience. We need additional studies, and of longer duration, to track changes over time.

Exercise and increased physical fitness associated with most kinds of nature-based activity leads to better mental health in children as well. Direct contact with nature positively affects their cognitive, affective, and moral development as well, especially in middle childhood (ages 6 to 12).

You don't have to travel far to reap the benefits of physical activity in nature. Green spaces close to home are more important for mental health benefits than those further away.

Getting your daily dose of green is simple. Just take your dog for a walk in the park (or go alone if you don't have a pet). Pull weeds or rake the garden. Even sitting on the balcony and doing simple yoga stretches can make a difference. If you're a parent, make it a priority to engage with your children outside. You'll both enjoy a boost in mood and you'll set a good example for your child. Being near the water is especially beneficial, so if you can participate in water-related activities, all the better.

The country is facing an urgent health crisis with increasing rates of obesity and chronic illness, both of which are associated with an increased risk for depression. Spending time outside is a powerful investment in your mental and physical health.


McGonigal, Kelly, Ph.D. "Stepping Outdoors Boosts Mood, Self-Esteem." Psychology Today. Blog.

Web. 11 May 2010. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-science-willpower/201005/stepping-outdoors-boosts-mood-self-esteem

Barton, Jo and Pretty, Jules. "What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving

Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis." Environmental Science and Technology 44 (2010): 3947-3955. Web. May 2010. http://www.julespretty.com/PDF%20Files/Dose%20of%20Nature%20ES&T%20(Barton%20&%20Pretty)%20May%202010.pdf

Davis, John, Ph.D. "Psychological Benefits Of Nature Experiences: An Outline Of Research And Theory."

Web. July 2004. http://www.johnvdavis.com/ep/Psy%20benefits%20of%20n%207-04.pdf

Maas, J., Verheij, R.A., de Vries, S., Spreeuwenberg, P., Schellevis, F.G., and Groenewegen, P.P. "Morbidity Is Related To a Green Living Environment." Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 63(12) (2009):  967-973. Web. 15 October 2009. http://jech.bmj.com/content/63/12/967.long