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How to get help from nature to beat depression

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Oct 2016; updated May 2023.

One mum reduced depression and illness through hiking in nature with her kids. We look at the science and benefits of walking outdoors.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 6 adults have experienced anxiety and depression over the past week. And shockingly, 1 in 10 children are affected by mental health problems.

Fortunately, some simple things can help improve the mental health of both adults and children.

Hiking with kids on the trail

Hiking with kids on the trail

Depression can destroy your life, but it is still a topic untalked about by many.

We've written before about the benefits of getting outdoors

Well, we were recently contacted by one of our readers in the USA, who found that hiking with her kids helped her battle depression and illness.

My name is Mary M, and I live in Pennsylvania, USA.  We have three boys (5,3,1) and a 3-month-old baby girl. 

I recently found a group called Hike It Baby that has helped us get outside more as a family.

Six months ago, I was ill and depressed, and I couldn't take the boys for a walk three blocks down the street. 

This past month I spent 30 miles bonding with my baby girl, and the boys did over 20 miles on their own two feet. 

I am just amazed!

The branch ambassadors and hike hosts went out of their way to be so welcoming and supportive, and I feel like I have finally found my tribe. 

We met at parks, did urban strolls, hiked dirt trails and even went on a group camping trip!

Thanks for listening. I really have enjoyed your emails and website!

Someone is taking it easy!

Hiking with a group can help

When you are ill and depressed, trying to get out can be tough. Getting involved with a supportive group can make all the difference.

I hadn't come across Hike It Baby before. Looking at their website, it looks a fantastic idea.

It was started by a mum in Portland, Oregon, in the USA, and soon spread across the country, with different regions and cities hosted by local volunteers. It's also here in the UK too, with groups currently in Kent, Hampshire, and Sussex. You can find all the places Hike It Baby is by clicking here.

How hiking can help with Depression

So how exactly does hiking help with Depression?

We all know that getting away from it, getting fresh air, and exercising can help us feel better.

Depression ranges from 'feeling down' to 'clinical depression', which could be induced by physical conditions. (Click here for the Understanding Depression Booklet from Mind to learn more about the different types of depression).

There's a lot of anecdotal evidence on how hiking in nature can help with depression. Scientists and doctors have been trying to get to the bottom of this simple but effective solution.

Brain scans show hiking in nature might lower negative emotions

Stanford University researchers scanned the brains of two groups of people. One hiked in nature, and the other walked along a busy road. Afterwards, they scanned the brains of the two different groups.

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Here's what they found:

People who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.

“This finding is exciting because it demonstrates the impact of nature experience on an aspect of emotion regulation – something that may help explain how nature makes us feel better,” said lead author Gregory Bratman

“These findings are important because they are consistent with, but do not yet prove, a causal link between increasing urbanization and increased rates of mental illness,” said co-author James Gross, a professor of psychology at Stanford.

90 Minutes of hiking in nature could lower depression

90 Minutes of hiking in nature could lower depression

Walking 90 minutes in #nature could reduce #depression.

This is also backed up by a study conducted by a University in Edinborough, where people just took a 25-minute walk before having their brains scanned.  Here's what they found:

Analysis showed evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone... ...has implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment for walking or for other forms of physical or reflective activity.

Walking in nature is like a meditation on the mind

Walking in nature is like a meditation on the mind

A 25-minute walk in #nature can put you in a meditative state

Walking in a group could help lower stress

In another scientific study, this time by Edge Hill University, looked at nature-based group walks.

nature-based group walks appear to mitigate the effects of stressful life events on perceived stress and negative affect while synergizing with physical activity to improve positive affect and mental well-being.

Reduce stress by walking in a group

Reduce stress by walking in a group

Mitigate #stress by #hiking in #nature together

This brings us back to Mary M and her positive outcome through regular walks with the Hike It Baby group.

The kids hiking by the lake - this would help with depression

The kids hiking by the lake - this would help with depression

take regular walks in the countryside with friends and family, or join a local walking group

So if you are suffering from depression or feeling down in the dumps, take regular walks in the countryside with friends and family, or join a local walking group.

More Help and Information

This post is not medical advice. If you or someone you know is showing symptoms of depression, please get in touch with a doctor. There's no need to suffer with it. Help is available.


  • 'Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature.' Stanford.edu. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016 Source
  • 'The urban brain: analysing outdoor physical activity with ...' ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016 Source
  • 'Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple...' online.liebertpub.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016 Source
  • 'Children and young People' mentalhealth.org.uk N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016 Source
  • 'New Survey highlights need for prevention revolution...' mentalhealth.org.uk N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2016 Source

Photo Credits: We would like to thank Mary M for providing us with photos from her hikes with her kids.