It’s no surprise that getting out and about in nature is good for our physical health and wellbeing, but recent scientific research has discovered that going for a hike in nature can actually improve out cognitive function, and have a positive effect on our brains.
An American study conducted in 2015 looked at the effects of urbanization on mental wellbeing. Urbanisation is associated with increased levels of mental illness, so the researchers investigated whether or not spending time among nature would influence repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self, which is a known risk factor for mental illness. The participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness than those who walked through an urban environment.
In 2012 researchers from University of Kansas and University of Utah in the USA sent out two groups of backpackers on a four-day hike. One group had all sorts of technology, while the other group had no technology. When faced with problems they had to solve, the group with no technology experienced a 50 per cent increase in creative thinking and problem solving skills, while the technology-clad group experienced lower cognitive function as their technology distracted them from solving the problem at hand.
Another study done in 2010 and conducted by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in the USA found that going for a walk can increase the size of your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain that deals with memory. The hippocampus reduces in size as we age, resulting in decreased memory function. By going for a 40 minute walk or longer, or participating in regular physical activity, you can reduce your risk of memory impairment, keep your mind sharper and more alert, and put off symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other memory illnesses longer.
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