Green exercise reduces depression, malaise

Turns out that Mom's incessant admonition to "Go outside and play!" was sound advice.

Outdoor activity reduces depression
Photo illustration by Troy Becker / The Forum

Turns out that Mom's incessant admonition to "Go outside and play!" was sound advice. Recent research found that just "five minutes of exercise in a park, working in a backyard garden, on a nature trail or other green space will benefit mental health," reports .

Fargoan Tom Clow, who climbs mountains, rides bikes and typically goes running on his lunch break, doesn't really need research involving 1,252 people to tell him that getting out for some activity in the green of nature is good for his well-being.

"I think I've experienced it firsthand," says the 49-year-old.

Apparently others have, too, and scientists are calling it "green exercise."

In the Science Daily article, researchers say green exercise is "physical activity in the presence of nature." Past studies have shown that green exercise decreased the risk of mental illness and improved people's sense of well-being. But the new study is the first to offer an idea of how much time people needed to spend outside to reap the rewards of green exercise.


The benefits didn't appear to require people to participate in strenuous exercise. It included a look at activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, boating, farming, horse-back riding and the always-high-impact act of fishing.

Steve Wenzel, who works in West Fargo, says he believes the study. Wenzel, a cyclist, skier and runner, says his wife can tell if he's not getting his outdoor bicycle time "because I get a little frowny-faced" and not as "easy to live with."

"She'll say, 'You need to get out on your bike,' " says Wenzel, who even enjoys mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.

Researchers have also found that young people and those with mental illness gained the most benefit from spending time in the green outdoors, but such activities benefitted people of all ages and in every social group.

"All-natural environments were beneficial, including parks in urban settings," Science Daily reports. "Green areas with water added something extra. A blue and green environment seems even better for health. ..."

That's good news for those who need an extra excuse to get out to the lakes.

Wenzel believes the fresh air and sunshine are responsible for some of the mental benefits of being out in nature. He also adds that if you're outdoors, you're likely doing something active rather than "sitting on the couch" or eating.

Some research may support Wenzel's theory on the solar benefits.


In a recent article on , Daniel Kripke, a light and sleep expert from the University of California, San Diego, says, "A couple of studies show that people who get more light exposure during the day have fewer sleep problems and less depression, and evidence suggests that light can keep you alert and productive."

MeritCare psychologist Dr. Ron Burd believes there are mental health benefits to getting out in the green of nature, but he also cautions that it's only a small piece of a larger puzzle.

That puzzle includes being connected to a community, watching alcohol intake, developing a regular rhythm of sleeping, eating and exercising and ensuring that the body's vitamin D levels are adequate.

Still, Burd says even a small thing, like getting some green exposure, can make a big difference.

"It's the whole tipping point" concept, he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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