Get Out in Nature to Change Your Brain
More than 50 percent of people live in urban areas. This number is projected to increase to about 70 percent by the year 2050. Urbanization is linked with progressive mental illnesses, but researchers do not understand why. A recent study found that the participants who spent about 90 minutes in nature had less neural activity in the area of the brain associated with mental illness over those who just walked through urbanized areas. These researchers believe that spending time in nature can offer many health benefits, especially for those dealing with ADHD, anxiety or depression. In an earlier study, psychologists asked participants to spend four days in a nature setting without access to technology. At the end of the four days, the participants had a 50 percent increase in their creative thinking and ability to solve complex problems. These researchers believe that noisy and polluted environments negatively impact the brain.
Activity in Nature Is the Best
Most of us are aware that exercise increases our ability to deal with stress. In another study, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that light aerobic exercise increased spatial and episodic memory in older women. Not only is getting out in nature good for your brain, but when you actively do something that increases your heart rate and moves your muscles, it has increased benefits of releasing endorphins, boosting mental power and reducing anxiety.
Other researchers have studied the effects of nature on ADHD symptoms. Dr. Frances E. Kuo and Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor found that activities carried out in natural green environments had the effect of reducing ADHD symptoms. Their findings held consistent with both genders, different ages, severity of diagnosis and across geographic locations. Children with ADHD had better attention spans after spending time in nature. Kuo and Taylor suggest encouraging kids with limited focus to play in “greenspaces” as a supplement to traditional treatment.
One PhD with Texas A&M University found that nature helps the body heal faster. Patients who had just gone through abdominal surgery were studied based on the view out their window. Those who could see trees and nature out their window healed faster and had fewer complications than those whose window overlooked a brick wall. It’s believed that greenery and fountains in hospitals also assist in healing. Some researchers have suggested incorporating nature views and pictures in rooms where a natural view is impossible. Many architects are incorporating this research into newer designs, not only in healthcare settings, but in workplaces and schools as well.
Canada has a wealth of parks and recreation areas where families can go to experience nature for themselves. Just like if you were starting an exercise program, you don’t want to be too intense at first. Hiking is a great activity that everyone can usually enjoy. You might even be able to take the family dog with you. However, you shouldn’t tackle that 5-mile hike until you’ve completed a shorter hike once or twice. Make sure you have the right equipment. Another reason hiking is popular to get out in nature is that you usually only need some good shoes, a hat, a water bottle and layered clothing. Most people have this equipment on hand.
When you’re out in nature, put the cell phone in your backpack or leave it in your car. Talk to those you’re with and enjoy the view. Get away from your technology and urban life every so often to refresh your mind and heal your body. If you can’t get to one of the great national parks, find a local park where you can walk. Even those small pockets of green have been found to have a positive effect on your mind and body.