If you love science (or an excuse to drop everything and run outside), you've likely seen the big news: A new study from Canadian doctors claims walking in nature can help fight depression, even if you're strolling through a public park instead of a dense forest. But can it really be that simple? Here's what to know about the study and its meaning for nature lovers, mental health advocates, and the people who need to stop playing Candy Crush and start going outside. (It's us. We're "the people.")
WAIT, WHAT STUDY?
In December of 2022, the Journal of Affective Disorders released a study from 9 Canadian mental health experts, including psychiatric doctors, psychologists, and even criminologists. They tested 37 adults who had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) by sending some on a 60-minute walk through a natural setting, some on a 60-minute walk through an urban center; meanwhile, some stayed put.
The subjects were surveyed before, during, and after their 60-minute slot about their mental wellbeing. Every participant who walked outside reported less negative emotions and intrusive thoughts. But the ones who reported the biggest positive change in their mood? The ones who experienced some form of nature, whether it was a full forest or a public park. Participants report the effects lasted a full 48 hours after their experience.
I'M REALLY BUSY TODAY, BUT I'M INTERESTED! CAN YOU SUM THAT UP?
Basically? People who spent time outside felt better. In the words of Dr. Marie Claude-Geoffrey, a youth suicide prevention expert and one of the authors of the study, “a simple walk in nature, whether in the forest or in an urban park, is effective in relieving negative thoughts and feelings.”
IS THIS STUDY LEGIT?
Yes, this study was done by scientists at 8 separate universities like McGill and the University of Montreal, along with doctors at hospitals across Canada. It has been peer reviewed by other scientists, and its findings have been verified. But it's a small study—only 37 adults participated, which is basically the size of the White Lotus cast—which means more research is definitely needed. Plus, it's important to note that while the study is great, it doesn't negate other treatment for depression, and it shouldn't derail anyone's existing wellness plans with their own doctors and therapists.
WHAT COUNTS AS "NATURE" IN THE STUDY?
Anywhere with easy access to trees, grass, gardens, or a body of water. Would it be great if we could all walk for 60 minutes a day in the Redwood Forest? Obviously. But if your best option is to walk through your nearest green space en route to CVS, the positive effects are still measurable.
WHAT IF I DON'T HAVE 60 MINUTES TO SPEND IN NATURE?
That's okay! Even a short walk around the block can help un-fog our brains. Several studies point to the goal of spending 17 minutes a day in nature—or 120 minutes a week—for better mental and physical health benefits.
OK BUT IT'S COLD OUT THERE. CAN I BRING NATURE TO ME INSTEAD?
Sure! Biophilia, or the process of building nature into manmade spaces, has been found to reduce stress and increase productivity. So have houseplants.
SHOULD I USE THIS STUDY FOR MY OWN WELLNESS GOALS?
Absolutely. Plugging back into the planet is good for your personal wellness and for the Earth, and remembering to take a few minutes for yourself and your surroundings is a proven way to reduce stress and elevate your mood. Whether you walk outside in your city, your backyard, or vast natural setting, there are benefits simply from connecting to the world around you.