Your Brain on Nature
By: Dr. Yashar Khosroshahi, ND
Is nature like a drug? These wonderfully hilarious drug-like ads certainly suggest so, and have been created by the organization Nature Rx to raise awareness about how powerful nature can be! According to the latest science, nature should be an integral part of our lives. The best part is: you don’t have to take a pill; rather, you just have to step outside, and the side-effects are amazing!
Here are three reasons why you should make nature a part of your day, everyday, to help you – do better by thinking better.
Increased Mental and Physical Health
Going for a walk in a forest has many health benefits which are not simply due to physical movement. By being in nature’s “restorative” environment, the body and brain undergo many neural and physiological changes. Studies have shown that walking in a forested area, as opposed to an urban setting, changes brain activity in a positive and powerful way. These neural changes have been attributed to helping improve depressive affect. Some of these findings have also demonstrated that urban living itself can be an environmental risk factor for other mental health conditions, like mood and anxiety disorders. Spending 15 minutes walking in a forested area has been demonstrated to have cardiovascular health benefits. In fact, Heart Rate Variability recorded during these sessions are similar to the changes seen while engaging in meditation or yoga practices.
Improved Cognitive Performance and Creativity
The increase in hours spent indoors in artificial light, in front of a screen, or bombarded with stimulation often associated with urban living, have led our brains to be over-active, under-rested, and under-performing. Fortunately, studies have shown that nature plays a curative role in re-establishing and improving our mental capabilities, including complex cognitive tasks requiring attention and working memory. One reason for these improvements in cognitive performance may be due to the brain’s ability to enter a state of restful introspection when more gentle stimuli are present, such as when in nature.
In one fascinating study, researchers extended the time participants spent immersed in nature to up to six days. The participants went on multiple hikes and were not permitted to use electronics for the duration of the study. The results of this study demonstrated a 50% increase in creative and higher-cognitive tasks after 4 days immersed in nature. This may be just what the doctor ordered for your next corporate retreat!
“Everything is Awesome!” – Cue the music to “The Lego Movie”
Various studies have found that just being in nature, or viewing beautiful images of nature, makes you feel more alive and act friendlier towards others. If that doesn’t make you want to take a stroll down a woodland path, or at least hang a picture of a tree up in your office, what will?
There are many psychological, physical, social, and cognitive benefits available to all of us that, unfortunately many of us ignore. Nature is one of the best “drugs” you can ask for, and you don’t need a prescription for it.
Now, knowing what you know, how can you incorporate the “restorative” elements of nature in your day? What benefits of nature are you most interested in experiencing? What actions will you take, or new activities will you try to help yourself – do better by thinking better?