A new study headed by Gregory Bratman, a grad student at Stanford University, researches how experiencing nature could change our brains and affect our emotional health.
How Nature Can Affect Your Brain
Do you ever feel different after you go outside for a walk? Or sit under a tree to read? You may not notice but research is beginning to show how making time to spend in nature can physically affect your brain. It is said that people with little access to “green spaces” or city dwellers have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and mental illness. On the contrary, those who live near parks and other natural environments have lower levels of stress.
The Stanford Study
But does experiencing nature actually change the area of our brains that affects emotional health? In a recent Stanford study, 38 adult city dwellers were asked to walk alone for ninety minutes either through a park or urban area. They were given a questionnaire to answer before and after their walks to measure their “tendency to brood.” Brooding refers to a mental state where a person cannot stop focusing on what is wrong with themselves and their lives. It is often a precursor to depression. When returning from their walks they also had brain scans. The results revealed that the city walkers had a higher level of blood flow and their answers to the questionnaire regarding their broodiness had not changed. On the other hand, the nature walkers had less blood flow and slight, meaningful improvements of their mental health or “quieter brains.”
There have been other studies researching if nature helps the brain by promoting a state of meditation. All of the results have shown some scientific proof relating nature to emotional well-being. Basically, there is no downside to spending time in nature.
Nature and the City
Still, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, with those numbers growing every day. “Never before have people been so disconnected from the natural world,” exclaims Bratman, who headed the Stanford study. Still, questions remain regarding nature and a person’s mental state such as how much time should we spend in nature? Do we need to be active to enjoy its benefits? Does it matter whether you are alone or not?
Think about how you feel after being outside. Maybe it is not a resurgence of happiness but it may be a nice break from the office, traffic or your own home. It is a good idea to make time devoted to being outside to refresh your energy, increase your productivity and maybe even improve your mental well-being.