Your Brain and Nature

Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature

Click here to see original article by Harvard Medical School

Looking for a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and maybe even improve your memory? Take a walk in the woods.

“Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement,”

says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance.

“They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.”

Your brain and nature

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

It’s not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect. Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one. They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

Digging a bit deeper, it appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits. For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body’s fight-or-flight response.

The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr. Strauss.

“Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.”

Find your space

How much time with nature is enough?

“Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful,”

says Dr. Strauss. ”

The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.”