On the surface, this may seem like a fairly obvious situation, but new research from Stanford University shows that it is not only good for the soul to be outdoors, but also good for the brain. For years, new studies have suggested that it is best to escape the city and get out into nature. A new study on the health benefits of time in a natural environment was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study included 38 participants who had a history of mental illness and was divided into two groups. One group had brain scans of their brains that matched their mental health status. The other group walked for an average of two hours a day on a busy street in Palo Alto, California, for three weeks.
The group then answered written questionnaires aimed at measuring the mental health aspects on which their attention was often focused.
Do you think back a lot on embarrassing or disappointing moments and wish you would stop thinking about them? Both groups thought negatively inward, but the group with a history of mental illness did not.
The groups also had their brains scanned before and after their walks, and the researchers were particularly interested in one brain region, the subgenital prefrontal cortex. According to the researcher, this is the area responsible for the withdrawal of behavior during rumination.
The researchers found that people who walked in the natural areas actually had fewer ruminants.
The brain scans, which were conducted in both groups, also supported the results of the questionnaires. The questionnaire was answered while people were walking on busy streets and again after their forest walk.
Much psychological research has been done on the effects of staying in a natural environment, and with the additional evidence from brain scans, there is now actual physical evidence. Bratman, the study’s lead author, said: ‘This provides further evidence that natural experiences, even for a short period of time, can reduce thought patterns associated in some cases with the onset of mental illness such as depression”.
One of the reasons this study found these results so important, Bratsman said, is that we have only just overtaken 50% of humanity in urban areas. That’s why we wanted to drive this development and find a neural correlation between these events.
The share of urbanization in humanity is projected to exceed 70% by 2050, and this trend is also accompanied by a decline in the very experience of nature.
Bratman continued: “Life in urban areas is associated with many types of stressors, be it noise, increased social interaction or traffic. The results of this study show that spending time outdoors in a natural environment could be an important step in treating and preventing depression.