Saturday is Earth Day, a time to truly reflect on all our Earth gives us. Among the the gifts Earth gives us, nature is among the most powerful. While being outside and taking in the beauty of a natural environment might be something you enjoy, it actually has incredible healing powers, and science shows us how nature can actually change our brains for the better.
Being in nature allows our bodies and our brains to slow down, and its been studied for years by people like David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist. Strayer says that being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex (our brain’s command centre) to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle needs rest too.
There wasn’t much hard evidence then—but there is now. Motivated by large-scale public health problems such as obesity, depression, and pervasive nearsightedness, all clearly associated with time spent indoors, Strayer and other scientists are looking with renewed interest at how nature affects our brains and bodies. Building on advances in neuroscience and psychology, they’ve begun to quantify what once seemed divine and mysterious. These measurements—of everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, “there is something profound going on,” as Strayer puts it. [National Geographic]
Another research study by Stanford’s Gregory Bratman, showed that people who took a 50-minute walk in a natural environment experienced decreased anxiety and negative emotions and an increase in memory performance. Another fascinating finding was that walking in natural settings was shown to decrease rumination, which is that unhealthy habit of thinking and over-thinking about negative experiences and their consequences. An important thing to note, is that part of this particular study noted that even walking in a green space in an urban environment (like a city) showed benefits. The presence of nature is important, and can be accessible.
Being in nature is not a cure for mental illness, but it’s definitely been proven to be a complementary part of health and psychological resilience. Nature is a powerful force for recovering from trauma and life’s other challenges. For those who don’t choose to live in a place bounded by nature on all corners, even city dwellers can find nature nearby. Gardens, parks, hiking or biking trails–they all work to provide our brains a break.
— Written by Amber Craig