Natural Therapy for Mental Health - Green Therapy and Exercise

16th October 2023

Effective natural mental health solutions for children, adolescents and adults

This page has been reviewed and edited by psychologist R. Y. Langham, M.M.F.T., Ph.D.

Time outdoors may not only relieve symptoms of depression (i.e. clinical and manic depression/bipolar disorder) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but also stabilize obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Fresh outside air can also bring relief to a variety of other health conditions and psychological disorders.

Green Therapy: Natural Therapy for Depression, and for ADHD

Regular exercise and outdoor activities, also known as unstructured "green time," have been found to help children with ADHD and depression. According to Psychology Today (2004), children with ADHD who participate in regular outdoor activities such as walking in the park or hiking, exhibit fewer ADHD symptoms than children who spend the majority of their time indoors.

Similarly, a recent study found that more than 70% of adults who participated in "green therapy" had a lower risk of depression than those who did not. “window-shopping” at a local shopping center.

·  Approximately 71% of individuals reported that they felt less tense after a “green walk,” while 50% of individuals reported that their feelings of tension increased after walking through an indoor shopping center.

·  Approximately 90% of individuals experienced an increase in self-esteem following a walk in the country, while 44% of individuals reported a decrease in self-esteem after "window-shopping" at a local shopping center.

For more information on "green therapy," check out: "Go Green to Beat the Blues." (May 13, 2007). Mind

Green Therapy is an Effective Natural Treatment for ADHD

Green Therapy: natural self-help therapy for depression and for ADHD

According to Richard Louv, author of Nature Deficit Disorder, "green therapy" is highly beneficial for children with symptoms of ADHD and other mental health disorders.

Dr. Frances E. Kuo is a psychologist at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and the Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor is a psychologist at the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Kuo and Taylor studied the effect of "green" or natural settings on symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) across diverse sub-populations of children.

Methods: Parents nationwide rated the after-effects of 49 common after-school and weekend activities. These ratings were based on the relationship between the after-effects and their children’s ADHD symptoms. The after-effects were then compared to the activities conducted in “green” outdoor settings and those conducted inside to determine if there was an effect on child-related ADHD symptoms.

Results: In this national, non-probability sample, children who participated in "green" outdoor activities experienced a significant reduction in ADHD symptoms. In other words, ADHD children who spent time outdoors were more likely to experience a reduction in their symptoms than children who spent the majority of their time indoors. The results were consistent across age, gender, and income groups, as well as community types, geographic regions, and diagnoses.

Kuo and Taylor concluded that “green” outdoor settings "appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics."

Exercise Alone? Is Exercising Alone a More Effective Treatment for Mild-to-Moderate Depression Than Medicating with Anti-Depressants?

Exercising alone appears to be more effective than medicating with anti-depressants. In fact, according to a Duke University study, exercising alone may even be more effective at treating depression than a combination of exercise and anti-depressants.

Exercise alone is more effective for mild-to-moderate depression than drug treatment or drug treatment combined with exercise, in terms of initial outcome and long-term effectiveness and recurrence rate.

In a 1999 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, 156 men and women with depression were divided into three groups. One group participated in an aerobic exercise program, another group took a psychiatric medication, SSRI sertraline (Zoloft), and a third group exercised and took Zoloft.

At the 16-week interval, depression symptoms had eased in all three groups. In fact, approximately 60% to 70% of all of the participants in the three groups could no longer be classified as having major depression. Moreover, group scores on two rating scales of depression were essentially the same. Results suggest that for those who need or want to avoid psychiatric medications, exercise may be an acceptable substitute for anti-depressants. It is important to keep in mind that it may be difficult to stay motivated to exercise regularly, especially if you are depressed.

A follow-up to the 1999 Archives of Internal Medicine study found that the positive benefits of exercise lasted longer than the benefits of anti-depressants. Researchers contacted 133 of the original participants six months after the first study ended and found that those who exercised regularly after completing the study, regardless of which treatment they followed, were less likely to relapse into depression.

Furthermore, a 2005 study found that brisk walking for about 35 minutes a day/five times a week or 60 minutes a day/three times a week significantly reduced mild-to-moderate depression symptoms. Conversely, the researchers found that brisk walking for only 15 minutes a day, five times a week, and/or stretching three times a week did not reduce as many depression symptoms.

Exercise and Depression (off-site link) - Harvard Mental Health Letter.

References for Green Therapy page:

1. Kuo, F. E. & Taylor, A. F. (2004). A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder:Evidence from a National Study, American Journal of Public Health, 94(9),1580-1586.

2. Harvard Mental Health Letter. (2009). Exercise and depression. Retrieved from Depression-report-excerpt.htm

3. Psychology Today. (2004). It's easier seeing green ADHD curbed when kids play outdoors. 26-27.

4. (2007). Mind launches green agenda for mental health. Ecotherapy vs. retail therapy.Retrieved from

5. Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.

Planet Earth, BBC Video. One of the best nature videos ever made.

Choose nature films for a positive affect on mental health. Films that are overly stimulating or violent (action violence included), can contribute to a weakened mental state that may contribute, along with other factors, to various mental health disorders. By contrast, films which are peaceful, positive, beautiful, and inspiring can help to foster a positive mental state and self-view, contributing to mental healing.

The Organic Food Shopper's Guide, Jeff Cox

Readers will find concrete advice in this basic primer: the science of organic farming is followed by a product-by-product guide to organically farmed foods that can be found in the market. Organized by food group (vegetables, fruits, protein, etc.), each food is broken down by season—how to shop for it, the reason to buy the organic version, and a simple recipe or two that showcases the strength of the main ingredient.

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