Being in Nature Can Reduce Depression and Positively Change Your Brain

How Nature Changes Your Brain

Back in the cavemen days (and even just a few hundred years ago), people lived close to nature. Today, in the Western world, the majority of people live in busy and congested cities.

Even those who live in small towns or the country-side often work in offices, staying inside air-conditioned buildings all day just to go home to be inside again.

Whether you live in a city or work indoors, you are likely not as often in nature as people generations before you were. You exercise in indoor gyms. You swim in indoor pools. Your entertainment has moved inside: watching TV, going to the movies, going bowling, or even reading. You may be completely cut off from nature in your day-to-day life.

There have been many studies showing that city people are much more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and emotional issues than people who live in rural areas, working outside in nature.

Just think about it – how does a small walk through a park or going camping feel? I bet you feel more relaxed, more centered and happier.

New research is proving that getting out of the city and going into nature is wonderful for your mental and physical well-being.

Being In Nature Changes Your Brain And Positively Impacts Your Health

How Being in Nature Changes Your Brain

A study by Gregory Bratman from Stanford asked participants to spend 50 minutes walking in natural or urban settings and filling out a psychological assessment before and after the walk. The volunteers that walked through the green portions of the campus showed improved cognitive function and mood compared to the volunteers who walked near high traffic areas at the same time.

The study showed that nature could have a positive effect on mental well-being, but didn’t examine neurological mechanisms underlying this change, leaving room for further studies.

Walking In Nature Positively Affects Your Tendency to Brood

Brooding is a state you get into when you constantly stress and worry about everyday things in your life. This is not only unhelpful or unhealthy, but can be dangerous to your overall mental health. Brooding can be a precursor to depression. Brooding is also commonly found among those living in cities versus those living in rural areas.

Brooding is associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. This made Bratman and his team interested and decided to measure its activity before and after exposure to nature in their follow-up study.

They examined 38 adult city dwellers. First, they asked them to complete a questionnaire about their frequency of brooding. Then they took brain scans to measure blood flow in their subgenual prefrontal cortex. They then split them into two groups – like in the previous study, one group was asked to walk in green areas while the other group had to go for a walk near the busy highway traffic. Volunteers had to walk alone without music on. After the walk, they were asked to fill out the same questionnaire and had their brain scanned again.

According to the results, the people walking by the highway had increased levels of blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex. Their scores of broodiness didn’t change either. The ones walking in nature showed improvements in their mental well-being with less blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex, showing a quieter brain.

These studies strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments could be an effective, yet simple way to immediately improve your mood, especially for those living in cities.

how nature changes your brain

Try It For Yourself – Get Out Into Nature!

There is nothing to lose, and yet so much to win. Make sure to spend some time in nature every day. Especially when you’re feeling stressed or worried regularly, just go and be in nature. Go for a nice walk in a park. Sit down or lay down in the grass. Smell the flowers. Go camping if you can. Hug a tree. Get involved with urban gardening. Get some plants to your home and your office. Keep nature involved in your life and you will start to feel all the more vibrant and alive.

Kat Gál