A new study proves that you really can "walk it off."     Photo: Loren Kerns/Flickr

Study: Hiking Makes You Happier

Research shows outdoor walks improve mental health

British and American scientists have published new research showing that group nature walks help us combat stress while boosting mental well-being.

Researchers from the University of Michigan and Edge Hill University in England evaluated 1,991 participants in England’s Walking for Health program, which hosts nearly 3,000 walks per week for more than 70,000 regular participants. They found that the nature walks were associated with significantly less depression in addition to mitigating the negative effects of stressful life events and perceived stress. The findings were published in the September issue of Ecopsychology.

Sara Warber, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of the study, said that the large sample was a defining factor.

“We observed behaviors of a large group, in which some chose to walk and some chose not to, instead of us telling them what to do,” she said. “After 13 weeks, those who walked at least once a week experienced positive emotions and less stress.”

Warber and co-author Kate Irvine, senior researcher of the Social, Economic, and Geographical Sciences Research Group at the James Hutton Institute, in Aberdeen, UK, recommend walking outside in nature at least three times a week to experience benefits. Short, frequent jaunts are more beneficial than long, occasional walks.

“Stress isn’t ever going to go away, so it is important to have a way to cope with it,” said Warber. “Walking in nature is a coping mechanism—the benefits aren’t just physical.”

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