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News Center Breaking News

June 2013

Enjoying Nature May Give Your Brain a Break

We live in a hectic world. The constant demands of technology and life's many responsibilities can become overwhelming. Looking for a much-needed reprieve? Visit Mother Nature. Ongoing research suggests that the natural world may benefit your brain.

Photo of a man with a hiking pole and binoculars, walking

Nature and your brain

If you've ever felt better after strolling through a park or another green space, you may have experienced firsthand the soothing effects of nature. A review of 25 studies on nature and health points to this restorative potential. Researchers found that the natural world may whittle away fatigue and anger. It may also ease anxiety and sadness. A separate study in the journal PLoS ONE found that being outdoors may even boost creativity.

What happens to the brain when you interact with nature? A recent small study offers a glimpse. Researchers used a portable electroencephalogram (EEG) to record the brain activity of study participants. Twelve college students wore the EEGs as they walked through first an urban shopping district, then a green space, and finally a busy city street.

When the students wandered into the green space, researchers noted a drop in frustration and alertness in the EEG recordings. Participants' brains seemed to enter a meditative state. High levels of attention returned, though, once the walkers were on the city street. The results suggest nature may be able to refresh the brain.

More green time

All too often people spend little time outdoors. In fact, many Americans spend nearly three hours inside every day just watching TV. If this describes you, you may be missing out on nature's potential brain-restoring benefits. What's more, being active outdoors can improve your physical health. It may help prevent chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

You don't have to travel far to partake of nature's physical and mental perks. A stroll through your neighborhood or in a local park may suffice. If you want to savor the outdoors even more, try one of these activities:

  • Plan a day hike in a state or national park. Tips for the trail: Take a friend along for company and safety. Choose a trail that's suitable for everyone in your group. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and pack bug repellent and plenty of water.

  • Hop on a mountain bike. It's a faster way to see the scenery. Plus, it helps build endurance and improve balance. Don't forget your helmet and always follow the rules of the trail.

  • Carve out a weekend for camping. You don't need an RV; you can pack the essentials in your car. A bonus: You'll witness the nocturnal side of nature.

  • Discover a favorite fishing spot. You don't need much more than a pole and some bait to catch a respite. Check with your state for license requirements.

  • Become a birder or other wildlife watcher. Spring and fall are choice times to spy various birds as they migrate.

  • Immerse yourself in water sports. Rent a kayak or canoe. Want to wade in deeper? Try scuba diving, snorkeling, or white-water rafting.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information. 

To help you explore the outdoors, visit www.recreation.gov to find activities and locations near you. Click here for more tips on outside activities.

 

Online Resources

CDC - Spring and Summer Outdoor Safety

National Park Service - Explore Nature

Recreation.gov - Find Parks, Forests, and Campgrounds

 

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