It’s official. Our brains don’t need expensive vitamins or popular superfood smoothies to stay healthy. The proof is in the pudding, well, ok, some new scientific research, which by spending some time in nature, you can benefit BIG TIME. Lots of natural environments are covered, from parks and farms to beaches, wilderness trails, and even your backyard garden. The most important thing – find somewhere with many living things and as little evidence of human presence as possible. Yeah, the carbon footprint needs to be really small for you to benefit.
Yes, this is all easier said than done. More than 50 percent of the population live in urban areas, which takes a considerable toll on brain function and mental health. Ever wonder why those peeps who live out in the country are less depressed, anxious and bipolar than city dwellers? They have figured out how to coexist with nature. Don’t you owe it to yourself to start getting out a bit more? The internet world will always be there, drawing you in and away. Grab your dog (or a favored friend) and take a walk. Maybe pour a glass of something refreshing and sit out in whatever outdoor space you have – teeny balconies count too. Your brain will thank you.
- Stop Negative Thoughts. We all dwell on the things we feel are wrong in our lives. From career choices, relationships and even ourselves. This is unhealthy and wastes brain space. It also puts your risk of depression or other mental illnesses a bit higher. GET OUT! Just taking a walk in the park can decrease the odds. A recent study showed that people who walked in a more rural, natural setting reported a decrease in negative thinking, and the tests showed reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. That’s the area related to mental illness. The urbanites, unfortunately, reported no reduction in rumination and negative thought, and no surprise – brain scans showed no change either. I think I might start looking for a cabin in the woods- maybe Grizzly Adams needs a new neighbor.
- Shaper Mental Focus. The University of Michigan did a little study. Participating peeps were asked to play a little memory game, then take a walk and repeat the test. Half the group walked through a local arboretum (that’s a tree park – locals to Boca, there’s one in Deerfield Beach – Constitution Park – get it? Your daily constitutional….old fashioned way of saying TAKE A WALK) the other group walked around the city. The tree walkers showed a 20% improved score on the memory test take two. No improvement for the city street shufflers. The research committee believes that this is because the city requires your brain to process more info at a faster pace. Nature asks little of you, but to revel in its peaceful flow. Basically, it’s a brain break, with an energetic return to healthy brain function. One interesting point: the study found you don’t actually have to ENJOY nature to reap the benefits.
- Compassion and Generosity Bloom and Grow. (yeah, a little too much Sound of Music…)Just looking at the beach, the trees or the sky give many of us a sense of wonder. This feeling increases our feelings of care and connectivity to others. Yes, we become compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic and caring people. We realize we are a part of something so much BIGGER than ourselves, and this increases our positive social behaviors. You know, the ones like sharing, making ethical decisions and being helpful and cooperative. Good stuff.
- Help for ADHD (and other Compulsions). ADHD (Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) has become rampant in our society. It is the most common neurobehavioral disorder in schools today, and many adults still suffer silently, or not so silently. A little study across the nation showed that getting kids OUTSIDE after school can reduce symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. It can be something as simple as reading on your front porch swing.
- Boosts Creativity and Problem Solving Skills. Technology is killing your brain and mine. Even the act of writing this post is putting some heavy duty demands on my brain’s ability to focus and process information. Research from the University of London did some digging (I know, not punny🤣) to find out the effect of nature on rebalancing the tech drain on our thinking ability. OK, I oversimplified, but you get the point. This study took a group of peeps backpacking for four days. No technology usage was allowed. VERBOTEN! The group was given a set of tasks to complete that required creative thinking and sophisticated problem-solving skills. They were assigned before the trip and after the trip. No surprise folks, but performance levels jumped by almost 50% after the camping adventure.
So wrapping this up and tying with a bow🎁; We all need to get a little sunshine in our lives. Get out where you can see trees, grass and the sky.🌻🌼 Detox from your gadgets. Turn off your phone, leave the iPod home and immerse yourself for a little while in all the glory of nature. Your brain says thank you.
Stay Motivated and Caffeinated!