* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
“Green” Exercise Improves Mental Health
"What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis"
Barton, Jo; Pretty, Jules. Environmental Science and Technology, Vol 44(10), May 2010, 3947-3955.
Get off the treadmill: This study suggests that exercising in nature gives a quick and significant boost to your mental health. Researchers analyzed 10 British studies encompassing a total of more than 1,200 participants involved in outdoor activities such as cycling, walking, horseback riding, and fishing. They found that “green” exercise improves people’s mood and self-esteem, with the biggest effects coming in just five minutes; after that point, the effects were still positive over time but weren’t as dramatic as the initial gains. While every green environment studied improved participants’ mood and self-esteem, the presence of water seemed especially beneficial. And certain groups seem to benefit even more than others: the youngest participants enjoyed greater improvements in self-esteem than all other age groups and the mentally ill showed some of the biggest self-esteem improvements.
Previous research has suggested a link between green spaces and positive mental health, but this study is the first to show how different durations of green exercise affect this link. The researchers suggest that their findings could inform the work of urban planners (to create more green spaces), educators (to let their students spend more time outdoors), and mental health professionals (to use green exercise as a form of therapy). —Jason Marsh
Increasing Optimism Leads to Improved Health
"Optimistic Expectancies and Cell-Mediated Immunity: The Role of Positive Affect. "
Segerstrom, Suzanne C.; Sephton, Sandra E. Psychological Science, Volume 21 (3), February 2010, Pages 448-455.
In this study, researchers measured law students’ optimistic expectancies (how much they believed that they would do well and succeed in law school) five times over two semesters; they also measured the students’ immune system function. Though the most optimistic students didn’t necessarily have the strongest immune function, changes in students’ optimistic expectancies paralleled changes in their immune function: As the students felt more optimistic about how well they would do in law school, the healthier they became. —Laura Saslow
The Benefits of “Self-Compassion”
"Rumination and Worry as Mediators of the Relationship Between Self-Compassion and Depression and Anxiety"
Raes, Filip. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol 48(6), Apr 2010, 757-761.
Recent research has explored the concept of “self-compassion,” which involves forgiving yourself for mistakes, accepting your flaws, and recognizing that everyone has negative experiences just as you do. In this study, 271 college students completed surveys that measured their levels of self-compassion. People who had any of six features of self-compassion were less likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, repetitive thinking, and worry. What’s more, the researchers found that self-compassion served as a strong buffer against negative thinking. They suggest that therapies that foster self-compassion might be a promising new alternative to prevent depressive and anxious disorders. —Bernie Wong