Depressed about the Gulf Coast oil spill? Stop hitting refresh at your favorite enviro news site and take a little break to walk briskly over to your nearest tree to give it a vigorous hug — because it’ll boost your mood.

That’s right — A new study shows that taking as little as five minutes for “green exercise” can improve both your mood and self esteem. This new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Essex and published in Environmental Science and Technology, shows even small breaks can make you feel better (via Lifehacker and Reuters).

But you can’t just do the stairmaster at home; “green exercise” means you gotta get outside! The researchers behind this study already knew exercise could make people happier — and knew that exposure to nature also brightened people’s moods. So, they decided to see if there were any synergystic effects to combining the two. Turns out, there is. “A positive nature experience seemed to increase the positive effects of exercise,” according to the study, with “exercise near a body of water” having the biggest effect. Good thing I live a five-minute bike ride from the beach!

While this news could finally get you and other individuals taking short breaks from the computer like you know you should, the researchers have even bigger goals. Jules Pretty, one of the researchers behind the study, says he wants his work to provide data that can be used in policy discussions. That could mean science-based arguments for more parks, easier beach access, landscape guidelines for schools, and many other urban planning decisions that would put people closer to nature.

On that front, green exercise got a policy boost yesterday when a new bill called Healthy CHOICES Act got introduced in the U.S. House. That bill, intended to combat obesity, includes a “Moving Outdoors In Nature” component that would provide grants for states “to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to get people moving via parks, recreation, outdoor play and other means,” according to a press release from the National Wildlife Federation, one of the nonprofits in support of the bill. Hopefully, the University of Essex researchers’ study will provide an additional boost helping to make this bill a reality.

Get happy fast with 'green exercise'
Just five minutes of exercise can boost your mood and self-esteem -- if the workout happens where you're exposed to nature.