Does nature nurture the brain? A recent study has found that a one hour-long walk in nature reduces stress-related brain activity.
How much does stress affect your life? Are we even aware of when things are not going well in our minds? Mental health is important, and scientists have now found that nature deeply affects our brain in a positive way. An hour-long walk in nature reduces stress-related brain activity, according to a study. The activity in the regions of the brain involved in stress processing decreases after 60 minutes of walking in nature. An article published in Molecular Psychiatry by the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development reports this finding.
Those who live in cities have a greater risk of developing mental disorders, while those who live near nature have a greater chance of staying mentally healthy. According to research, the amygdala, which plays a role in stress processing, is less activated in rural areas during stress than in cities, suggesting that nature may provide benefits. However, according to Sonja Sudimac, a predoctoral fellow in the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience and lead author of the study, the hen-and-egg problem hasn’t yet been resolved, whether nature caused the brain effects or if individuals opted to live in rural or urban areas.
Sixty-three healthy volunteers were examined for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) before and after a one-hour walk in Grunewald forest or a shopping street with traffic in Berlin in order to achieve causal evidence for stress processing in their brains. Study results indicated that walking in nature decreased activity in the amygdala, suggesting that nature has beneficial effects on stress-related brain regions.
This study provides evidence for the causal relationship between nature and brain health, which has previously been assumed but not proven. “Interestingly, the brain activity in these regions remained stable and did not increase after the urban walk, arguing against a commonly held belief that urban exposure causes additional stress,” says Simone Kühn, director of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience. The positive impact of nature on stress processing can already be observed after a one-hour walk. This contributes to our understanding of how the environment influences our physical and mental health. By exposing the brain to nature, even for a short period of time, the amygdala activity decreases, suggesting that walking in nature may help prevent mental health problems from developing.
Those findings are consistent with a previous study (2017, Scientific Reports) that showed that city dwellers living near forests have a physiologically healthier amygdala structure, thereby better coping with stress. To enhance citizens’ mental health and well-being, urban design policies must create more accessible green spaces in cities. The researchers are currently studying how a one-hour walk in nature versus urban environments affects stress in mothers and their babies in order to investigate the beneficial effects of nature. Many people are unaware of the importance of mental health and how many people around the world have mental issues without even knowing it. Therefore, one must remember that we need to take care of our mental health just as we take care of our physical health.
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