More of us than ever are living on our own - and it seems that the solo lifestyle could be a cause of poor mental health.

London - Taking a walk in the park could help those suffering from depression, researchers have found.

They studied whether a nature walk could improve the mood of people with clinical depression.

The research also tested theories developed in a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory, which propose that people concentrate better after spending time in 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.

For the latest study, 20 people with clinical depression – 12 women and eight men, with an average age of 26 – took part in an experiment that involved walking in a quiet nature setting and in a noisy urban setting.

Before 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 woodland park, or stroll along a 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.

As depression sufferers are characterised by high levels of rumination and negative thinking, researchers were sceptical a solitary walk in the park would provide any benefit.

But mood was improved to a significant extent by both types of walk, the study found.

The results also showed sufferers had a 16 percent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk compared with the urban walk.

Writing for the Journal of Affective Disorders, 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.

“Walking in nature may act to supplement or enhance existing treatments for clinical depression.”

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.

Their performance on memory and attention tests was improved by 20 percent compared with after an hour-long stroll in a noisy urban environment. - Daily Mail