How Walking In Nature Changes Your Brain
By Jenna Barrington
How much time do you spend out in nature? Like, really spend quality time outside?
A few hours a day? A few minutes a day? A few minutes a week?
In Western Society, we have become extremely disconnected from nature. The majority of our population lives in busy cities, crowded towns, and apartments or home surrounded by roads and other buildings.
Without even realizing it we’ve isolated ourselves from mother nature. Compared to our great-grandparents, we barely ever touch the bare earth with our feet.
Did you know that this disconnect from mother nature has been shown to affect our overall health and wellbeing?
Research has shown that people who live in the city are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental disorders than people who live in a more nature-surrounded environment.
To those of you who are in tune with nature this may seem obvious. Being out in nature feels good. Even just a walk through the park or standing outside on a lush piece of lawn has power to boost one’s mood and soothe the heart.
So how does being out in nature actually affect our wellbeing?
Mood and Cognitive Function
In a study done with students at Stanford University, researchers found that walking in nature-dense areas has a positive effect on mental wellbeing.
Participants were asked to spend 50 minutes walking in either an urban or nature-surrounded setting and to take a number of psychological assessments prior to and after their walk.
Those who were asked to walk through a green, lush area of campus showed signs of improved mood and cognitive function when compared to those who were asked to walk in a more urban, traffic-heavy setting.
We all know that being a chronic worrier is bad for our health and our state of mind, but sometimes it has become such a habit that it is hard to just “snap out of it” and stop worrying!
Worry can lead to more worry, which can lead to more chronic conditions like depression and anxiety.
We live in a crazy world with crazy lives and crazy expectations, not to mention all the dangerous things going on in the world that we are constantly seeing projected over social media. How do we find peace of mind?
Gregory N Bratman, along with several colleagues, found that worry, or “brooding”, increased certain levels of activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. Since this is able to be measured in the brain, they decided to put together a study to find out if being in nature could help people find relief from constant worry and rumination.
Bratman took 38 healthy adults who lived in the city and had them fill out a questionnaire to try and determine how much time they spent worrying every day. Each adult also had a brain scan done which measured blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex.
The participants were then split in half. One half was asked to walk through a green, plant-filled park while the other half was asked to walking down a busy highway during heavy traffic.
Once they completed their walks, the participants returned to the researchers and filled out the same questionnaire and had another brain scan.
The results were not surprising. Those who walked in the quiet park showed significant improvements in their mental wellbeing and brain scans showed less blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortexes. Those who walked alongside heavy traffic showed little or no change in mental wellbeing and also had increased bloodflow to their subgenual prefrontal cortexes.
So, turns out something as simple as a walk through the park can have great benefits on your health, mood and overall state of mind.
Make it a priority to spend time outside every day, even if only for a few minutes. I try to go out into the park behind my home with my dog every morning and stand out on the grass. When you are outside, try to focus on relaxation and breathing (though the simple act of being outside might make your attention turn to these things naturally).
Being in direct contact with the earth (sometimes called “earthing” or “grounding”) has been shown to have many benefits; reduced inflammation, improved mood, more energy and less pain.
You’ve got nothing to lose!
Jenna Barrington is studying Therapeutic Nutrition and Holistic Medicine and aspires to be a practitioner, teacher and writer. She is passionate about education and helping others take control of their health.
Jenna lives with her husband in Utah and loves writing, cooking, green smoothies, training her dog, Japanese, spending time at the ocean, bungee jumping, walking barefoot in the grass and being with her family.
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