6 Reasons Why Your Brain Needs Nature

Northern Ireland.
Food for the brain at the beautiful Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland. Photo © Linda van de Pavoordt.

I love the energy, the creativity and the ideas exploring a (new) city brings. But what I’ve recently come to discover: I need the opposite too. It feels great to unplug and spend time in nature. Literally recharge the batteries. My brain needs it. And yours too. This is why.

Spending time in nature:

  • Improves short term memory
  • Reduces the stress hormone cortisol
  • Improves problem-solving capacity
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Decreases feelings of depression
  • Makes us actually think nicer about ourselves.

Cleaning the mental windshield

According to David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, our prefontal cortex (the brain’s command center) can be overworked, just like an overused muscle. He conducted an experiment with a group of volunteers, who performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks after three days in nature. Strayer calls the effect ‘cleaning the mental windshield’.

Relaxation jackpot

Another type of research was done by Japanese scientists. They found that a 15-minute walk in the woods causes measurable changes in physiology. Researchers led by Yoshifumi Miyazaki at Chiba University sent over 80 people to stroll in seven different forests, while the same number of volunteers walked around city centers. ‘The forest walkers hit a relaxation jackpot: overall they showed a 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, a 2 percent drop in blood pressure, and a 4 percent drop in heart rate.’ (source: National Geographic, January 2016). The Japanese researchers even have have an expression for a short mood improving, stress relieving walk in the woods: Shinrin-yoku, which translates as forest bathing.

 

There are many more experiments with convincing conclusions about the powerful influence of nature on the human brain. Want to read more? Start with this article from National Geographic.

If you want to know more about Yoshifumi Miyazaki, read the article ‘The Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan in the database of  the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Inspired and want to go out there? Maybe you’re interested in Hiking in Wales.

© Words and photographs by Linda van de Pavoordt. Published January 20th, 2016.

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