Is walking in nature or in the city related to our mood or increased risk of depression; Research reveals
"When we walk, we naturally turn toward the fields and groves: what would come out of us if we walked only in the garden or the canyon?" wrote Henry David Theroux in The Atlantic in 1862.
In the decades since, psychologists have proven him (Henry David Theroux) right. Exposure to nature has been proven time and time again to reduce stress and increase well-being. But scientists weren't sure why this was happening. Is it air-related? The rising sun? Some evolutionary tendency towards greenery that makes us happy and lifts our spirits?
Scientists weren't sure why
Is it air-related? To the rising sun? Perhaps some kind of evolutionary tendency towards the greenery of nature?
A group of researchers from Stanford University thought that the influence of nature might be related to a reduction in personal reflection, or as they describe it, "an incompatible pattern of thinking about ourselves associated with an increased risk of depression and other mental illness."
Loss of control is what happens when we're really sad, and we can't stop thinking about the problems and the negative side, and what causes it: a breakup in a relationship, a layoff, that biting comment you got on the street or at work. Self-rumination and disturbing thoughts manifest as increased activity in an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, a narrow band in the lower part of the brain that regulates negative emotions. If the obsessive thoughts persist for too long without remission, depression may appear.
Study: Can hiking in nature reduce the tendency to depression
In a study published in the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford scientists examined whether hiking in nature could reduce the tendency to depression in 38 mentally healthy people. They chose residents living in the city because the researchers predicted they would have: "a slightly increased level of sadness as a result of the ongoing and chronic stresses associated with the urban experience."
- After some preliminary tests, half of the participants walked for 90 minutes through a wooded spot with oak trees and shrubs ("The views included neighboring hills and beautiful views of San Francisco Bay").
- The other half took a walk along El Camino Real, a street with lanes of traffic in Palo Alto. Nature hikers showed decreases in disturbing thoughts and inactivity in the prefrontal cortex. City travelers showed no such improvements.
POST-WALKING BRAIN CHANGES (PNAS)
In general, drops in intrusive thoughts are associated with so-called "positive distractions," just like enjoying a hobby or enjoying a long, interesting conversation with a friend. Walking in nature sounds to some people like something boring and depressing, these are the people who feel well-being and euphoria are the shops, the so-called "rush to the malls" where the "real" action and fun in life supposedly is. But, surprisingly, the opposite seems to be true: natural environments are more restorative, clearing the head and thus confering broader psychological benefits.
Architects and designers are increasingly taking green space into account in their future plans
The researchers note that this effect of improving feelings of peace and well-being should also work with many other types of natural landscapes, those that radiate with "magic," "a sense of belonging," and a "sense of being." So while our backyard might do that, those little sidewalk gardens that have sprung up at intersections in Manhattan might not.
- Building a Green Future: Bringing Nature into the City, Amazing Green Buildings Around the World
- An Israeli startup creates vertical growing areas in an urban environment
Partly because of such studies, architects and designers are increasingly taking green space into account in their future plans, and when the demand for green inclusion in homes and cities increases, it seems that the human future will be a more significant merging with nature. But it may not be as simple as it sounds: today, more than half of the world's population lives in cities, and by 2050, it is expected that about 70 percent of the population will live in big cities.
This is another matter that Thoreau warned us about back in the 17th century:
"Today almost all of man's (technological/architectural) improvements, so to speak, such as building houses and cutting down the forest and all the big trees, simply distort the landscape, making it more and more forced and cheaper."
Spending 20-30 minutes outside in a natural environment lowered stress hormone levels of cortisol by 9.6% in 36 people who live in an urban environment. https://t.co/iVAcJD7xRx
— Dr. Rhonda Patrick (@foundmyfitness) 5 April 2019
Spending 20-30 minutes outdoors in a natural environment lowers stress hormone (cortisol) levels by 9.6% in 36 people living in urban environments. Dr. Rhonda Patrick, PhD
"A 20-minute break in nature relieves stress"; Headline from HarvardUniversity magazine
Spending just 20 minutes outdoors can help lower stress hormone levels, according to an April 4, 2019 study, Frontiers in Psychology. Previous studies have shown that interacting with nature reduces stress, but it's unclear how long and how often you should interact with nature, or even what kind of experience in nature is best.
The study found that the green nature environment increases feelings of well-being and calm by reducing obsessive and negative thoughts.
Spending at least 20 to 30 minutes in a natural environment is associated with the greatest decrease in cortisol levels. After this time, additional stress-reducing benefits accumulated more slowly later on. The time of day and specific circumstances did not affect stress levels.
So the next time you have negative disturbing thoughts or sadness – just try to work on your mental well-being in the following way: find a natural environment that you enjoy and spend at least some time there and sink deep into the silence of nature, which nurtures us and lifts our sad souls to the joyful of green, alive and bursting, together with the radiant sun that animates everything – together, they direct us to a dimension or area of our brain, In it lies the peace and inner sense of well-being that we seek until the day we die.