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How Does Nature Nurture The Brain To Reduce Stress?

A one-hour nature walk, according to current research, decreases brain activity associated with stress

While being close to nature is thought to be beneficial to brain and mental health, living in a city is a well-known risk factor for developing mental illnesses. According to studies, those who reside in rural regions had lower amygdala activity under stressful events than those who live in cities. This discovery points to a new advantage of nature.

The Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of 63 healthy volunteers before and after a one-hour walk through Grunewald woodland or a busy Berlin commercial district in order to demonstrate a causal association.

The study’s findings showed that after a walk in nature, amygdala activity decreased, showing that being in nature had a positive effect on brain regions associated with stress.

The findings support a previously suspected positive link between nature and brain health, but this is the first study to prove a causal relationship. Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience, points out that the brain activity after the urban walk in these areas remained constant and did not rise, which calls into question the concept that being in urban surroundings causes stress.

The authors demonstrate that spending time in nature has a positive effect on the areas of the brain that process stress, and that this benefit is already visible after a one-hour walk. This advances our understanding of how our physical environment influences our mental and physical health.

Going for a walk in nature can help prevent mental health problems from developing and can help to mitigate the negative effects of city living. Even a brief encounter with nature can reduce amygdala activity.

The findings are similar with a previous study (2017, Scientific Reports), which discovered that city dwellers who lived near woods had an amygdala structure that was physically healthier and, presumably, better able to handle stress.

This new study supports the need of urban planning strategies to expand the availability of green areas in cities in order to promote citizens’ mental health and well-being.

The researchers are currently conducting a study to determine how a one-hour walk in natural vs. urban environments affects stress in mothers and their babies in order to assess the good effects of nature on different demographics and age groups.

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