Going on a forest walk or simply strolling through a park will do you a power of good. Not only physically by improving cardiac health and blood pressure, but it also will supercharge your brain power. There are mental and psychological benefits from being in contact with nature that you probably never even realized. Here are 6 benefits that your brain will get from a walk in the woods.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods….I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” – Lord Byron.
1. It improves your mood
When you are feeling anxious or depressed, a walk in a green environment can do wonders for your mental state. It improves your mood and makes you feel happier. This was the conclusion of researchers at the University of Verona in Italy in 2014 who reported that contact with nature was an important element in restoring mental health.
2. It helps you to reduce stress levels
Walking in forests is a popular pastime in Japan. It is called shinrin-yoku which translates roughly as “forest-air bathing”. There is no equivalent word in English. Researchers at Kyoto University ( 2007) found that the subjects who were suffering from chronic stress had gotten the greatest benefits from walking in the forest.
3. It helps your memory and learning power
Have you heard about forest kindergartens? They are very popular in Germany and you may wonder why. The original kindergartens (“children’s garden”) started by Friedrich Froebel were designed to stimulate children to learn in a garden setting. The children who are learning in this natural setting were found to be better at risk taking and also improved their attention and memory. What a pity that most kindergartens to-day are indoors!
Similar results were found for adults by the University of Michigan researchers (2008). They found those who had walked around a forest were performing 20% better on memory tests than their counterparts who had been walking in an urban setting.
4. Green will help you be to be more creative
It is fascinating to learn that the color green seems to get the creative and imaginative ideas flowing. If you are ever stuck for some ideas, take a walk on the green side. One study, published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2012), wanted their subjects to come up with some original ideas for using a simple tin can. The experiment showed some subjects a white rectangle and another group a green rectangle before starting. The people who had been shown the green rectangle produced the most imaginative and creative solutions. One explanation may be that the color green is associated with growth.
5. Walking in nature can reduce brooding
Do you ever brood? Researchers wanted to find out whether staying in natural surroundings would actually help to lessen brooding. Was there any evidence to show that city dwellers were more prone to brooding than those who had more exposure to natural surroundings? This is an urgent question as 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. Prof. Bratman of Stanford University (2015) set out to discover if there was a link. Although the study was a small one and more research needs to be done, the subjects who had been on a 90 minute walk in natural surroundings were much less prone to ruminating on negative thoughts than those who had strolled through an urban area.
6. Walking can help you let your mind wander
In our rushed lives, we are forced to pay attention as we cross the street, attend to the hundreds of demands on us and this can be very tiring. We rarely get the luxury of letting the mind wander and the ideal scenario is a walk in the woods. This is how our mind is involuntarily engaged in a very pleasant way. The brain can relax and it can help us to contemplate. This is often referred to as the Attention Restoration Theory and it functions best in a natural environment. This study was carried out by Prof. Cimprich at the University of Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2007.
So, the next time you decide to go for a walk in the woods or nearby park, remember that you are going to give your mental health a great boost and you will feel so much better for it. I mean, you don’t want to lose your mind, do you?
“That’s the trouble with losing your mind; by the time it’s gone, it’s too late to get it back.” – Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering American on the Appalachian Trail.
Featured photo credit: Autumn Glory/Bert Kaufmann via flickr.com