5 Ways Spending Time in Nature Benefits Your Brain

Your brain doesnít need an expensive supplement or trendy superfood to stay healthy. Research shows all you need to do is spend some time in nature. This can include many different natural environments, such as city parks, farms, beaches, wilderness areas or your home garden. The most important part is to find somewhere with as many living things and as little evidence of human presence as possible.

Although, this can be easier said than done. Over 50 percent of people now live in urban areas, which is estimated to rise to 70 percent by 2050. And urbanization is taking a toll on our brain function and mental health. City dwellers have a higher risk of depression, anxiety, mood disorders and schizophrenia compared to those who live in rural areas.

You owe it to yourself and your mental health to make a habit of spending time in nature. Take your dog for a walk in your local city park. Plan excursions to wilderness areas near your home. Or sit in your backyard and watch the birds for a while. Youíll be doing your brain a big favor.

HOW NATURE BENEFITS YOUR BRAIN

Forest trail

1. Boosts Creativity and Problem-Solving Skills

Not only are more of us living in urban areas, weíre also rapidly increasing our use of technology. Working on computers, checking cell phones and otherwise interacting with electronic devices is shown to place heavy demands on your brainís ability to focus and process information.

Researchers at the University of London investigated the effects of nature to rebalance this technological drain on our cognitive abilities. They took a group of adults backpacking in the wilderness for 4 days where they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to complete tasks that required creative thinking and complex problem solving before the trip, and again at the end. Their performance on the tasks improved by an impressive 50 percent after spending 4 tech-free days in nature.

2. Promotes Compassion and Generosity

Looking at a beautiful forest, beach or other natural scene gives many of us a sense of awe or wonder. And this sense of awe is shown to increase our feelings of caring and connectedness towards others.

In a series of studies, one research group found that when you experience awe, it increases your ethical decision-making abilities, generosity and positive social behaviors, such as being helpful and cooperative. Researchers suggest this is because awe often gives you a sense that you are a small part of something bigger, which seems to encourage a shift to caring about how you relate to others and your community rather than simply yourself.

3. Sharpens Mental Focus

A University of Michigan study asked participants to complete a memory test, go for a walk, then repeat the test again after they returned. One half of the group walked through a local arboretum and the other half walked down a busy city street. Those who had walked among the trees improved their performance on the memory test by almost 20 percent. Whereas, the city walkers had no noticeable improvement.

Researchers believe this is because being in a city requires your brain to process far more information compared to being in a natural setting. If youíre constantly being bombarded by city life, your brain essentially gets tired. Viewing nature gives your brain a chance to take a break, which allows it to come back to cognitively demanding tasks with renewed energy.

Interestingly, the study also found you donít even need to enjoy your time in nature to benefit. The benefits were similar when participants walked outside on a warm summer day or a freezing day during winter. The only difference was that participants enjoyed the summer walks more than those in the depths of winter.

4. Stops Negative, Obsessive Thinking

Dwelling too much on things you feel are wrong with yourself or your life is not healthy. Habitually ruminating on negative thoughts like this is known to put you at risk for depression and other mental illnesses. Itís also been found to be much more common among those who live in cities. Although, simply taking a walk in your local city park is shown to combat this tendency.

In a recent study, participants reported their amount of rumination before and after a walk in a natural or an urban area. Those who walked for 90 minutes in nature reported a decrease in their negative thinking. They also had reduced activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area related to mental illness. Those who walked through an urban area reported no reduction in rumination, and their brain scans also showed no improvement.

5. Helps ADHD

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder of childhood. Symptoms often include an unusually high level of inattention, impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. A national study found that common after-school and weekend activities done in natural, outdoor environments may be effective in reducing these symptoms, such as simply reading in your backyard instead of inside. Researchers felt this could provide a widely available, free and non-pharmaceutical way to help those with ADHD.

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128 comments

Sophie L
Sophie L12 days ago

thanks

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Cindy S
Cindy S13 days ago

thanks

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Lesa D
Lesa Dabout a month ago

thank you Zoe...

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Gino C
Gino Cabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing

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Daniel N
Past Member about a month ago

Thank you

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Ida J
Ida J1 months ago

Thank you

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Hannah K
Hannah K1 months ago

thanks for posting

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Amanda M
Amanda M1 months ago

I definitely prefer living in our small rural town to the big city! More open spaces around us, and it's a LOT quieter. In the city, there's nothing but concrete and asphalt, nonstop noise, more criminal activity around so you have to keep your head on a swivel at all times (which does NOTHING for your nerves!), higher costs of living, and neighbors right on the other side of the WALL! Thanks, but no thanks!

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Past Member
Past Member 1 months ago

noted

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Danii P
Danii P1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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