The Benefits of Taking a Walk in Nature
The benefits of taking a walk in nature were features in a recent article from the Proceedings of the National Academey of Sciences. The researchers found that “Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain (the subgenual prefrontal cortex or sgPFC)…compared with those who walked through an urban environment”. The spPFC is a region of the brain associated with rumination on negative aspect of self, a feature that can be associated with depression. There many benefits of taking a walk in nature. One conclusion the authors make is that providing accessible natural areas in heavily urbanized areas may help promote mental health.
These findings may have implications that go beyond city planning. The benefits of walking in nature can be demonstrated on functional MRI. Something about a walk in the woods evokes fewer negative ruminations (recurring thoughts) about ourselves. The best-selling author of The Power of Now, Eckart Tolle wrote that “We also need nature to show us the way home, the way out of the prison of our minds”. The Researchers at Stanford University have shown there is a specific neural correlation to Tolle’s observation.
Even short periods of exercise can promote better health. Although study participants engaged in a 90-minute walk, shorter walks can also be expected to produce healthy effects. Dr. Vicky Scott points out “Gynecologists frequently encourage exercise to improve bone health, to address pre-menstrual dysphoria, and as a component of weight management”. There are many opportunities to get out in nature—many can be found close to where you work or live. Some cities have converted abandoned railroad tracks into urban bicycling and hiking trails. The North Carolina Rails to Trails website has links to maps and so does Buncombe County. Whether you have to drive somewhere to hike in the mountains or you go out your backdoor to explore the natural world, if you find yourself stuck in a moment where your thoughts just keep looping around negatively, try taking a walk in nature.