Need a pick-me-up after a long day in the city? A walk in the woods may be just what the doctor ordered. The LA Times reports on a new study that has found a link between walking in nature and reduced rumination (repetitive negative thoughts about oneself), a risk factor for depression and other mental illnesses. The study randomly assigned 38 healthy volunteers (with no history of mental illness) to take a 90-minute walk in either an urban setting or a natural setting. All participants took a survey before and after the walks to measure their ruminative thoughts. Researchers also scanned the participants’ brains before and after the walks to measure activity in the subgenual prefontal cortex—an area of the brain associated with rumination. Here is what the researchers found:
Participants who walked in the natural setting self-reported less rumination after their walk. Their brain scan also showed reduced activity in the subgenual prefontal cortex.
Participants who walked in the urban setting showed no significant differences before and after their walk.
While other studies have linked exercising in nature with a reduced risk for depression, the LA Times reports that this is the first study to investigate nature’s effect on a specific mechanism that is linked to depression. More research is needed to determine exactly what aspects of nature affect the brain in this way and to figure out how long a person needs to be in nature to experience benefits. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about heading out to a green space for some exercise, remember that it’s important to know your physical limits and be sure to bring along plenty of water and rejuvenating snacks, like nuts, fruits, and energy bars.
Source: LA Times