EMOTIONAL HEALTH
May 11, 2010

Time Outdoors Helps Self Esteem

Good news, couch potatoes: Just five minutes outside can improve mood and self-esteem. Vigorous exercise is not necessary.

Researchers from the University of Essex say that spending time doing low-intensity activities outdoors seriously boosts mood and self-esteem. Jo Barton and Jules Pretty carried out a “Meta-Analysis” of 10 earlier studies that all focused on how various outside activities and environments affected participants’ rankings of the two measures.

In fact, for both self-esteem and mood, the least amount of activity – just five minutes – was associated with the greatest improvement.

The authors lay out the background for their study by pointing out that the World Health Organization estimates that “[p]hysical inactivity results in 1.9 million deaths worldwide annually, roughly 1 in 25 of all deaths.” Because so many people tend to have “sedentary and indoor lifestyles” nowadays, as well as suffer more chronic health and mental health issues than in the past, the authors were particularly interested in exploring how outdoor activities might affect well-being.

They looked at how much time the 1,252 participants spent taking part in activities like walking, bicycling, fishing, gardening, farming, and boating, and looked at how the their self-esteem and mood ratings changed before and after beginning their “green exercise interventions.”

Barton and Pretty found that green activity positively affected the participants’ mood and self-esteem, regardless of the amount of exercise or the intensity of the activity. In fact, for both self-esteem and mood, the least amount of activity – just five minutes – was associated with the greatest improvement. The authors write that these results suggest “that there is an immediate effect obtained from the start of green exercise.” The findings were true for men and women of all ages and health statuses. All kinds of green environments showed a positive effect on both variables, but the authors say that “the presence of water generated greater improvements.” And mentally ill participants showed the most marked improvements in self-esteem after engaging in green exercise.

The researchers conclude by saying that “[e]xposure to nature via green exercise can thus be conceived of as a readily available therapy with no obvious side effects.” So take a little time where you have it – even five minutes – to take a walk in the park or enjoy a new hobby outside.

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