Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study

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Place: U.K.-wide

Overview

In this large-scale study of participants in a formal walking program in the U.K., researchers find that participants in nature-based group walks are less likely to report experiencing depression, perceived stress, and negative affect, and report greater overall mental well-being. By comparing a large sample of participants and non-participants over time, the authors overcome some inherent challenges in measuring the effectiveness of these types of programs.

Relevance

This study is useful for those looking for robust evidence of the mental and emotional benefits of group walking programs, particularly those based in nature. The audience for this research could be mental health care providers and public health agencies.

By establishing control and treatment groups, this study controls for much of the potential bias in the sample, such as recruiting only particularly active respondents. These data, however, are not necessarily representative of the general population in the U.K. because program participants are predominantly female, older, White, and affluent.

Location

This study is based in the United Kingdom.

Trail Type

This study includes participants in the Walking for Health program in the U.K. and focuses on the effect of participants in group walks occurring in “nature,” defined as natural and semi-natural places, green corridors, farmland, urban green spaces, and coastal areas.

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to measure the changes over time in mental, emotional, and social well-being of participants in a group walking program called Walking for Health (WfH) is a large public health intervention program with 70,000 participants, designed to increase physical activity around the U.K.

This research was supported by a De Montfort University Ph.D. Studentship, the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division, and a Fulbright Scholarship.

Findings

  • People who participated in group walks in nature reported significantly less depression, perceived stress, and negative affect. They reported significantly greater positive affect and overall mental well-being.
  • The authors find no difference in reported level of social support between nature walkers and non-nature walkers.
  • The authors find that participants’ physical activity is the strongest predictor of an individual’s reported mental well-being and positive affect, followed by whether they participate in group walks in nature. These results suggest that group activities and physical activity together create the greatest benefits for participants.

Methods

The 1,516 participants in this study were recruited from existing WfH programs and had to have attended at least one WfH group walk. The authors collected information during the first week and 13 weeks later. The sample was divided into control and treatment groups. The treatment group was “group walkers” who had participated in at least one group walk during the six months prior to the start of the study. From the “walkers” group, the researchers also identified “nature group walkers,” who walked mostly in natural places. The control group included “non-group walkers” who had not participated in any group walks during the previous six months. The final analysis sample included 435 non-group walkers and 1,081 nature group walkers.

The authors collected information on demographics, disabilities, mental and physical health, perceived stress, negative and positive affect, and social support. They measured changes in outcomes during the program, and compared the measured changes between the walkers and non-walkers. They also controlled for confounding variables such as age, gender, disability, past physical activity, and past stressful life events.

The authors used propensity score matching, a statistical technique that matches individuals from control group with individuals from treatment group using the demographic and other baseline characteristics. This approach allows the researchers to ensure that the they are including similar people in the treatment and control groups.

Citation

Marselle, M.R., Irvine, K.N. and Warber, S.L., 2014. Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large-scale study. Ecopsychology 6(3): 134-147.