If you need a reason to step away from your screens and take a walk outside today, how about improved physical and mental health?
According to a Molecular Psychiatry study published earlier this month, “mental health problems like anxiety, mood disorders, major depression, and schizophrenia are up to 56 percent more common in urban compared to rural environments.” And for its study, it followed 63 healthy participants and measured their brain activation levels before and after a walk to determine the different impact being in an urban or natural setting had on our brain and mental health.
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Participants were randomly assigned a walk in either Grunewald forest, the largest green area in Berlin, or a walk in the bustling city for an hour. They were instructed not to use their mobile phones or enter shops to avoid potential distractions and were given an on-the-go lunch to eat during the walk.
Prior to the walk, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire and undergo a functional MRI (fMRI) scan, which measures brain activity.
Afterwards, they were sent out for their one-hour walk and was given another fMRI scan and questionnaire upon their return to assess the different effects walking in the city or the forest had on them.
The study found that those who spent an hour in nature demonstrated lower stress levels after their walk outside. They also found the brain’s amygdala activity—which can be triggered by stress and is responsible for regulating our emotions such as fear and aggression—decreased in the group who walked in Grunewald forest.
On the other hand, those who completed their walk in the city did not see the same results in reduced stress levels. However, the good news is that it also did not heighten that group’s amygdala activity; instead, it remained stable.
Excuse us, making our way to our nearest green space to take a mental break.