(Relaxnews) – Shedding light on the frequently proposed but rarely taken-to-heart suggestion of getting air and seeing friends, a large-scale study linked group nature walks to improved mental health and reduced stress.

“We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says senior author Sara Warber, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School in the US and member of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.

In the study, researchers from the University of Michigan evaluated 1,991 participants in Great Britain’s Walking for Health, a program that encourages and organizes community walks.

Their sample included people who participated regularly in group nature walks, and those who didn’t. All participants were screened for demographics, then for mental well-being, and data was quantified on a variety of assessment scales.

Statistical analysis showed that those who had recently experienced a stressful event such as serious illness, marital separation, unemployment or the death of a loved one experienced mood upswings that lasted after their walks.

Participants were compared to a statistically matched control group of subjects who were not active in Walking for Health.

The paper was published in the journal Ecopsychology.