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Your Brain Really Wants To Be In Nature

Being outside—but the kind of outside with trees, not just on the street—makes your life a lot better.

If (like me) you’ve been sitting at your desk for too long, then you really ought to get up, find the nearest park, and go for a nice walk. It will help your brain to focus, reduce your stress levels, and set you up for the rest of the day.

Walking is good for you, and so, especially, is a walk in a green space, according to a new study from Scotland.

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, attached a mobile brain monitor (called a electroencephalography device) to series of subjects and then sent them on three different walks. The first was in an "urban shopping street" zone, the second was a "path through green space," and the third was a "street in a busy commercial district." Each walk lasted about 25 minutes, and the EEG machines measured five outputs equating to "short-term excitement," "frustration," "engagement," "arousal," and "meditation level."

The results were clear, according to Richard Coyne, one of the researchers: The walkers showed "lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation" when they moved into the green zone, but "higher engagement when moving out of it." In other words, outside the hubbub of the city, their brains started to rest and reset.

Writing about the paper, Coyne says the work shows the public benefits of investing in greenery:

Our study has implications for promoting urban green space to enhance mood, important in encouraging people to walk more or engage in other forms of physical or reflective activity. More green plazas, parkland, trees, access to the countryside, and urban design and architecture that incorporates more of the atmosphere of outdoor open space are all good for our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps planners didn’t need evidence that parks make people feel better. But maybe the rest of us did. Go for a walk.

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  • tannerc

    More projects like the High Line in Manhattan make this type of mind-clearing, energy-restoring walk possible even in major cities. Sometimes, though, that's not the case, it's just not possible to go anywhere green.

    Which is why – I imagine – cities like Salt Lake City and Portland (or really anywhere in California or up-state New York) are growing in popularity. Here in SLC there's a thriving city, then just 30 minutes away complete and utter solitude in nature.