Picture yourself taking a leisurely walk along a wooded path, sun peeking through the trees. Feel relaxed already? Several recent studies suggest that spending time outdoors has both mental and physical benefits. The latest one takes that research a step further: it used a brain scan to capture nature's effect on how we think.
In the study, researchers asked 38 residents of an urban area to take a walk. Half strolled through a natural area, while the other half walked along a busy road.
Before and after the study, participants filled out a survey that aimed to capture their thinking patterns. In particular, the surveys measured participants' tendency toward rumination. That style of often negative, inward-looking thinking is linked with a higher depression risk.
Participants also had their brains scanned before and after the walk.
The results? Questionnaires revealed that the participants who took a nature walk changed their thinking pattern. Brain scans matched those improved moods.
“This provides robust results for us that nature experience, even of a short duration, can decrease this pattern of thinking that is associated with the onset, in some cases, of mental illnesses like depression,” Gregory Bratman, the lead author of the study, told The Washington Post.
More research is needed to learn more about the link between nature walks and improved mental health. Exercise already provides a health boost, though, so there's already a strong case for taking your walk through the park.
Want to enjoy the benefits of a nature walk while meeting members of the Parkinson's community and supporting critical research? Meet up with Sam Fox (no relation to Michael) and fellow supporters as Tour de Fox makes its way across the country this summer. Many of the hikes require no hiking experience -- just a good pair of a shoes and love of the outdoors. See when Tour de Fox will be in your area.