While many of us would attest that going on a hike or a walk in a park with a friend makes us feel happier, improves our minds, and clears our heads, its exact benefits have rarely been the subject of scientific experiments or studies, until now. In its November 2012 issue, The Journal of Affective Disorders will publish the results of a University of Michigan study exploring whether walking in nature may be useful for individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). Participants in the experiment exhibited significant increases in memory span and mood after walks in nature versus urban walks. This suggests that interacting in nature may be useful clinically as a supplement to existing treatments for MDD.

In the article, researchers note that “Interacting with nature is, for the most part, widely accessible, simple and affordable.”  Therefore, its benefits should be thoroughly explored as a supplemental treatment for patients with depression. While this study helped to start the conversation, it also raised many questions for further research, such as: What are the long lasting effects of regular interaction with nature and how can patients with MDD be motivated to take these nature walks?

Additionally, prior research has found that urban living may conversely affect moods and cognitive function and increase psychological problems in individuals. In an age where more and more people are living in urban areas, what affect is this having on our psychological health? How can spending time in the neighborhood park make us think more clearly and help our children perform better in schools?

Read more from the The Journal of Affective Disorders website or check out this article in its November 2012 issue.