Depression sufferers are characterized by high levels of rumination and negative thinking, researchers at first were skeptical a solitary walk in rural setting would provide any benefit.
However, rural walks yielded a 16 per cent increase in attention and working memory compared to urban walks and mood was improved to a significant degree by both types of walk, the study found.
The study also tested theories developed in a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which propose that people concentrate better after spending time in rural nature or looking at natural scenes.
According to ART, those in peaceful settings are not bombarded with external distractions, which tax their working memory and attention systems.
As a result, the brain can relax and enter a state of contemplation, which helps restore cognitive capacities.
In its latest study, 20 people with clinical depression, 12 women and eight men, with an average age of 26, took part in the experiment that involved walking in a quiet nature countryside setting and in a noisy urban setting.
Prior to their walks, participants completed testing to determine their cognitive and mood status, and were asked to think about an unresolved, painful memory.
They were then told to go for an hour-long walk in a rural woodland park, or stroll along an urban busy street.
The routes were mapped out and participants wore a GPS watch to ensure they went to the right place.
After their walk was completed, they took part in a series of mental tests to measure their attention, and short-term and working memory. A week later, the participants repeated the study but went for a walk in the location they had not visited in the first experiment.
The result yielded a 16 per cent increase in attention and working memory improvement compared to urban walks.
Dr. Marc Berman, of the Rotman Research Institute, Canada, who led the research, said: ‘Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared with a walk in a busy urban environment.
In 2008, another study by Dr Berman showed that adults, who had not been diagnosed with any illness, received a mental boost after an hour-long walk in a woodland park.
Evidence also shows that rumination is linked to general anxiety, post traumatic stress, binge drinking, eating disorders, and self-injurious behavior.
People who are pessimistic, neurotic, and who have negative attributional styles tend to ruminate that could lead to clinical depression.
Not only are habitual ruminators more likely to become depressed, but experimental studies have demonstrated that people who are induced to ruminate experience greater depressed mood.