Article

Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression

Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, Canada.
Journal of Affective Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.71). 03/2012; 140(3):300-5. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2012.03.012
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT This study aimed to explore whether walking in nature may be beneficial for individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Healthy adults demonstrate significant cognitive gains after nature walks, but it was unclear whether those same benefits would be achieved in a depressed sample as walking alone in nature might induce rumination, thereby worsening memory and mood.
Twenty individuals diagnosed with MDD participated in this study. At baseline, mood and short term memory span were assessed using the PANAS and the backwards digit span (BDS) task, respectively. Participants were then asked to think about an unresolved negative autobiographical event to prime rumination, prior to taking a 50-min walk in either a natural or urban setting. After the walk, mood and short-term memory span were reassessed. The following week, participants returned to the lab and repeated the entire procedure, but walked in the location not visited in the first session (i.e., a counterbalanced within-subjects design).
Participants exhibited significant increases in memory span after the nature walk relative to the urban walk, p<.001, η(p)(2)=.53 (a large effect-size). Participants also showed increases in mood, but the mood effects did not correlate with the memory effects, suggesting separable mechanisms and replicating previous work.
Sample size and participants' motivation.
These findings extend earlier work demonstrating the cognitive and affective benefits of interacting with nature to individuals with MDD. Therefore, interacting with nature may be useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments for MDD.

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Available from: Ian H Gotlib, Aug 16, 2015
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    • "A study about mental health responses and green space found a reduced risk for poor mental health among women (but not men), through a significant interaction effect between physical activity and access to certain qualities (Annerstedt et al. 2012). A study of individuals with major depressive disorders found improvements in mood associated with walking in nature (Berman et al. 2012). Reduced depression in the elderly has been reported after walking in gardens (Blumenthal et al. 1999; McCaffrey et al. 2010). "
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    • "Using this general design, researchers have reported more significant cognitive benefits postnature walk in healthy adults [132] [133], children with attention deficit [134], and adults with depression [127]. This cognitive restoration may occur without changes in emotional state per se, suggesting that the cognitive benefits are not merely the result of acute positive mental outlook [127]. "
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    • "Using this general design, researchers have reported more significant cognitive benefits postnature walk in healthy adults [132] [133], children with attention deficit [134], and adults with depression [127]. This cognitive restoration may occur without changes in emotional state per se, suggesting that the cognitive benefits are not merely the result of acute positive mental outlook [127]. "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper summarizes the discussions from the Natural Environments Initiative meeting hosted by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Global Health and the Environment and the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies in October 2013. It presents ongoing worldwide research on health benefits stemming from exposure to natural environments and design cues with particular attention applications in urban environments. This meeting generated a Workshop statement forged by the participants that affirms the health benefits of nature and presents the need for additional collaborative, transdisciplinary to refine salutogenic planning and design practices. Workshop participants represented disciplinary and professional perspectives from medicine, landscape architecture, public heath, and forestry science rooted in the cultural, ecological and political realities of a dozen countries and five continents. When framing the benefits of nature, they considered health outcomes including mental health disorders, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders, allergies, cardiovascular disease, and more. Many environmental factors (including those related to physical activity, residential planning, environmental contamination and severe weather attributed to climate change) mediate these health outcomes at local, regional and global levels. This paper provides an illustrative review that captures many relevant studies discussed during the workshop. Although not exhaustive, our review indicates that the available evidence is applicable to various populations and ecological settings, and broadly supports the association of improved health outcomes with exposure to natural environments. Full report available at: http://www.chgeharvard.org/sites/default/files/resources/Paper-NaturalEnvironmentsInitiative_0.pdf
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