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Man In Nature: How Going to the Woods Strengthens Your Brain Power

Man In Nature: How Going to the Woods Strengthens Your Brain Power

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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“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

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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