Walking in nature can be psychologically beneficial for individuals suffering from depression. In a study to look at the effect that walking in nature has on mood and cognition in individuals who have major depression, promising evidence was found that some cognitive benefits could be provided by walking in nature.
The research revealed that improved memory performance was experienced by individuals with clinical depression after walking in nature, in comparison with walking in a busy urban environment. Although walking in nature could enhance or supplement existing clinical depression treatments, more studies are required to understand exactly how effective walking in nature can be for helping improve psychological function.
The study is a part of ART (Attention Restoration Theory), a cognitive science field which suggests that individuals experience improved concentration after looking at nature scenes or spending time in nature.
According to ART, the reason is that when individuals interact with peaceful settings in nature, they are not bombarded with outside distractions which burden their attention systems and working memory relentlessly. The brain can relax and enter a contemplative state in nature settings which helps to refresh or restore cognitive capacities.
In this study, the researchers explored if a walk in nature would be similarly beneficial to results from a 2008 study, and improve mood for individuals who have clinical depression as well. Since high levels of negative thinking and rumination are characteristics of people with depression, the researchers were at first doubtful that any benefit at all would be provided by a solitary walk in the park and memory could end up be worsened and depressed mood exacerbated.
A 16% increase in working memory and attention was exhibited in individuals after the walk in nature in comparison to the urban walk. Depressive mood was not alleviated to any noticeable degree from the interaction with nature compared to urban walks, as positive mood increased and negative mood decreased after both walks to an equal and significant extent. This indicates that separate mechanisms of the brain could underlie the mood and cognitive changes of interaction with nature.