This is your brain on nature.
Did you know...
Three in 10 adults do not spend time outside on a daily basis.(1)
Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” to describe the ill health effects associated with spending time indoors, with screens, and in urban landscapes, while being disconnected from nature. The research shows that, for example, spending little time in nature impacts children’s self-confidence, behavior and attention span(5,6). Additional studies have found that disconnection from nature affects adults’ moods, stress levels, and cognition as well.
Are you suffering from nature deficit disorder?
The number of Americans on medications to treat psychological and behavioral challenges is rapidly increasing -- perhaps our “modern lifestyle” is leaving us feeling empty (7)?
It turns out our brains respond quite positively to time in -- or even near – nature. And luckily for city dwellers it doesn’t take a trip out to the wilderness to experience the healing power of nature. Here’s the lowdown on how nature makes us feel better, and some inspiration for experiencing more nature-connection in your life.
1. Less feeling blue, more happiness!
Researchers have found that the sadness, worry and even major depression are tied to the activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex area of the brain. And guess what? A 90-minute walk in nature changes activity in that region of the brain, thereby reducing the intensity of these feelings (8).
I suggest to my clients that they spend 90 minutes in nature at least once per week (and as much nature-time daily as they can manage.) – Who do you know who can join you in nature this week?
2. Less stress and anxiety.
Stress, and the effect it has on our bodies, is at the root of many chronic health conditions that affect quality of life. Spending time in nature is one way to activate your calming parasympathetic nervous system – the antidote to the stressed out “fight or flight” mode in which many of us spend most of our days (9).
In addition, research has shown that people who live near nature experience less stress and anxiety. A Dutch team studied the medical records of more than 300,000 people, and then looked at how far away they lived from nature. They found that people who lived 1 km or less from a park or green space experienced less anxiety (10).
Although I live in a fairly urban environment, there is a lovely rose garden flanked by Redwood trees within walking distance of my home. Start exploring near your home – chances are, there is a park or greenway relatively close that you may not have noticed before. Your brain will thank you.
3. Better memory and focus.
Studies show that walking outdoors improves memory and focus in adults – have you ever stepped outside of work to “clear your head” (8,11)? If so you’ve experienced the effects that time away has on the tasks at hand when you begin working again.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found that “memory performance and attention spans improved by 20 percent after people spent an hour interacting with nature” (11). Plus, walking in nature had similar effects to meditating in adults, according to the study. So if sitting meditation doesn’t appeal, walk!
For those of you who live in colder climates, the Michigan team found that improvements in memory and focus resulting from walking in a park for an hour don’t diminish when it’s cold out. So bundle up and get out there!
Join me in nature on May 22.
If you’d like to experience the healing, positive effects of nature first-hand, join me for Nourish in Nature on May 22 in Lafayette, CA. Nourish in Nature is an afternoon mini-retreat with yoga, hiking, meditation and a beautiful, fresh farm-to-table dinner. It’s an opportunity to re-connect with yourself and the natural world. Hope to see you there!
(5) Lougheed, T. (2008, October). Wild Child. Environmental Health Perspectives. 116(10). A436-A439. Retrieved August 13, 2009 from GreenFILE database.
(6) Louv, R. (2005). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.