Walking in nature is good for your brain – new study adds to the evidence

Walking in nature is actually good for your mental health, including your ability to focus attention, according to researchers at the University of Utah.

Recent studyA study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that a 40-minute walk in nature helped people recover from a strenuous mental task and regain the ability to concentrate.

Psychologists have hypothesized that humans evolved to benefit from the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural environment. The idea, known as biophilia, suggests that we have a connection to nature that is beneficial to our physical and mental health.

Most of us spend more time in urban environments — indoors or walking on the sidewalk — rather than on the forest floor, and our lack of exposure to natural environments means we may miss out on the physical and mental health benefits of quiet time in nature. environment. In addition, our immersion in technology, some of which we wear, constantly demands our attention, which can exhaust our ability to direct our attention to what we are doing.

An old idea gains new support

Of course, the idea that walking in the woods is good for you is not new. John Muir, a conservationist who was instrumental in establishing national parks in the United States, Written in 1901: “Climb the mountains and gain their grace. The peace of nature will flow into you as sunlight flows into the trees. The winds will blow into you their freshness, and the storms their energy, while worries fall like autumn leaves.”

Muir’s wisdom gets new support from a brain scanning study at the University of Utah. The researchers compared the brain activity and mental performance of 92 volunteers who were randomly divided into two groups. Individuals in both groups took a 40-minute walk. One group took a nature walk, along a rushing stream, through an oak tunnel, around a pond with ducks and a waterfall. The second group wandered between buildings and parking lots. Both groups walked the same distance, and over roughly similar terrain, so they both got the same amount of physical exercise and no one was allowed to use their electronic devices or talk to anyone along the way.

Empty street in the city center with traffic lights in the distance.
Walking in the city provides exercise, but it may not restore the mind as much as walking in nature does. (Jim Brown/CBC)

To measure mental performance, participants were given pre- and post-tests while wearing electroencephalogram (EEG) caps, or EEG caps, with 32 sensors recording brain activity. The previous test involves two steps, the first is counting backwards from 1000 to seven. Try it and you’ll find that it gets harder as you go, requiring more and more attention as you get tired. This was to exhaust their attention reserves in the brain.

They were then given a standard test of the Attention Network Task (ANT), which assesses the ability to be alert to a new stimulus, to direct their attention, and something called executive control, which is roughly the ability to focus on a task. During the tests, the EEG cap recorded activities in brain regions such as the cerebral cortex, which is involved in decision making.

A path through a dense forest.
The study suggests that exposure to nature can enhance an ability called executive control. (Submitted by Jeff Davis)

Nature restores the ability to concentrate

After the walk, everyone took another ANT test. While there were similarities between the two groups, those who followed the normal track performed much better when it came to executive control. This experiment using EEG data provides direct neurological evidence that nature has a positive effect on the brain.

Taking time to simply look at clouds, trees, rivers, or vast landscapes does not require decision making and seems to allow the brain to relax, recover, and work more effectively afterwards.

The researchers want to continue the study to find out how using a mobile phone while walking in the forest affects mental performance afterwards. So, even if you don’t have easy access to nature, maybe just turning off your surroundings for 40 minutes and taking a quiet walk can provide a little rest and refreshment for your mind.

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