Walking in the hills and countryside can improve mental health

Updated October 2014

Walking in the hills and countryside can help raise self-esteem and reduce depression according to research published by MIND.

MIND, the country's leading mental health charity, commissioned a study from the University of Essex which showed that walking in the countryside can provide real, quantifiable benefits to mental health and wellbeing.

The study measured the effects on mood, self-esteem and enjoyment of a 30-minute walk in a country park and compared this with the impact of a walk in a shopping centre.

The results showed that over 70% felt less depressed after the country walk compared to 45% after the walk around the shopping centre.

The term 'Ecotherapy' is increasingly being used to describe this use of the natural environment to improve wellbeing and treat mental distress.

This can include a variety of activities - walking in the hills and countryside certainly - but also conservation work, gardening or even work on farms. The key appears to be the exposure to the outdoor environment combined with exercise. The results reported here are part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that Ecotherapy merits serious consideration alongside conventional treatments for mental distress.

And this approach is already popular in other European countries. In Holland there are already several hundred farms that are part of the health service.

One in four of us are likely to experience mental distress at some time in our lives. Rather than depending on psychiatric drugs for relief, MIND's new green agenda for mental health advocates the outdoors as a low cost, effective alternative therapy. This is going further than simply advocating that people 'should get out more' but advocating Ecotherapy as a clinically valid treatment option for GPs in dealing with patients with mental distress.


“MS is a hateful illness that cripples many sufferers, both physically and mentally. When I was told I'd got it back in 1996, I was told quite bluntly to either 1) change my lifestyle, or 2) sit at home feeling depressed and let the illness possibly and gradually spiral out of control. Crazy as this may sound, I'm now almost grateful to have it, 'cus from that very day onwards, back in '96, my mental attitude changed. No more slobbing around lad, you've got an enemy within that needs to be shown that it isn't going to drag you down. Seems to have worked positively for me so far. I wonder what sort of condition I'd be in now if I'd chosen 'option 2'? Colin”

Colin Jones, Ellesmere Port


“I agree that hill and lake walking is marvellous, unfortunately there appears to be a distinct lack of these pursuits in Essex, and it is not always convenient to pop off to the nearest hills.”

Michael Carter, Chelmsford


“I am on the steering committee for a 2 year project called 'Out There' in Cumbria. One of the aims is to get 300 people with mental health problems out into the Lake District to enjoy a wide range of physical activities. The scheme is funded by the Lottery and run in conjunction with Mind. The Institute of Psychiatry are monitoring participants to see how their involvement affects their mood and mental health. As a sufferer myself and also a participant I can report it is working for me already!”

Ian Summerscales, Workington


“i'd like say that i agree with the item written, i'vesuffered with bi-polar disorder for many years and exercise helps greatly(if i can get motivated)but its not an alternative to medication! people who take medication no matter how they feel should still take their meds elsewise they may well bring on a relapse, but as with anything its best to discuss with a doctor your needs”

Tony Norbury, Wolverhampton


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