Newsflash: Spending Time in Nature Is Good for You

July 28, 2015

No morbid rumination here! Photo: AESanfacon/Flickr

A new study confirms what has long been apparent to all us lovers of the great outdoors: Spending time in natural environments reduces stress.

To gauge this effect, including specific measurements of how time in nature affects brain activity, researchers at Stanford University recruited 38 participants. Half of them were sent on a short 90-minute walk through a leafy, natural setting on campus, the other half on a 90-minute stroll alongside a busy highway. Before and after their walks, participants underwent a brain scan and completed a questionnaire.

The results? Based on the before and after questionnaire, folks who spent time in the natural setting showed measurable improvements in their mental health and overall happiness. Folks alongside the highway, not so much.

The researchers also specifically evaluated the effects these walks had on participants’ “morbid rumination” or brooding—thinking unproductive and negative thoughts about one’s life, past mistakes, and so forth. This sort of fretting is associated with increased activity in a part of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. (Hence the study’s rather abstruse title: Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.)

Based on the brain scans, the nature walkers showed decreased levels of activity in their subgenual prefrontal cortices while the highway walkers showed essentially no change.

The upshot? The study provides supporting evidence that spending time in nature can actually alter your brain for the better.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

For more, check out the recent New York Times article on the study, How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain.

Equipped is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.