Many of us know and love the euphoric, rejuvenated feeling that comes from a great workout, or even from a simple reflective walk outside. Now, there’s even better news for fitness and nature lovers: physical activity, particularly in wilderness settings, may actually make you smarter.
According to a recent report in Backpacker Magazine, mental abilities of wilderness hikers increased by “45% … once the hikers had been out on the trail for three days.” Based on data from neuroscientist Dr. David Strayer’s study, the findings go on to suggest that the longer one is out in nature, the smarter he/she will become, yet only up to a point. This is not only significant data, but eye-opening data that can have broad implications for conservation, health, exercise routines and work/life balance.
The study, which took place in southeast Utah’s Grand Gulch Primitive Area, was also conducted on a larger group of Outward Bound subjects following the initial trial. These subjects displayed even higher levels of improved cognitive and creative mental abilities of up to 50%. Strayer comments that an increase in physical activity coupled with a lack of distraction and increased focus likely play a role in these results. Strayer does not, however, make any conclusions either way and states that more research needs to be conducted before drawing any concrete determinations.
So, does being out in nature really make us smarter? If so, what does this mean for our current way of life? Are we so disconnected from nature on a daily basis that it’s actually impacting our ability to live a rich, full life without us even realizing it? Perhaps that’s why in major cities like Paris and San Francisco maintaining green space is essential, not only for real estate value, but in order to maintain a high quality of life for residents.
Whatever the long-term ramifications, the initial results from Strayer’s study are intriguing and indeed suggest that significant time spent out in nature — hiking in this case — can have positive effects on the human brain and psyche. Strayer recommends three days of wilderness exposure to reap the greatest benefits, however, day or weekend outings also play an important role and should not be underestimated for improving mental capacities and overall well-being.
So what are you waiting for? Put that computer or smartphone away and grab that walking stick!
Photo Credit: Herzi Pinki
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