A researcher at Stanford has studied the reduction of negative thoughts in the brain of people that have had a walk in a park, surrounded by nature. The result of the study found evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.
The benefits of nature never cease to amaze while those of walking are also well known for a long time. If we simply put them together, walking in nature, we can reduce significantly our negative thoughts.
The study, that was lead by Gregory Bratman, a doctoral student in biology at Stanford University, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, was conducted on 38 people, that were living in urban areas and didn’t have any precedented mental disorders.
The 38 people were divided into two groups and invited to walk for 90 minutes; 19 of them have walked in a green space, near the campus of Stanford, comprising grassland with scattered oak trees and shrubs, while the other half walked along a busy street in downtown Palo Alto. See picture on your left.
Before and after the walk, the volunteers were asked to fill a questionnaire to investigate their tendency to “ruminate”.
This mental process seeks out with questions like: “My attention is often focused on aspects of myself that I would like to stop thinking” and “I spend a lot of time thinking about the past times when I felt sick and angry.”
[If you don’t know what ruminate means, here is a definition: Rumination refers to the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991). Basically, rumination means that you continuously think about the various aspects of situations that are upsetting. From psychologytoday.com]
On top of the questionnaire, both groups, again before and after the walk, undergone a scan of the brain that examined a brain region called “subgenual prefrontal cortex”, a brain region active during rumination ‘, an area that has been shown to be very active while having negative thoughts. This is also the affected area when one experiences depression.
These are the results of the studio:
the group of people, who had walked in the middle of nature, has given different answers than those marked before the walk, proving to have had a substantial decrease in “negative thoughts”.
Also, the brain scan has supported this thesis: in the cerebral area concerned, the neural activity had diminished.
“This finding is exciting because it demonstrates the impact of nature experience on an aspect of emotion regulation – something that may help explain how nature makes us feel better,” said Gregory Bratman.
Here is the link to the study: “Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation”
It has also been proved by other researchers, that urbanization (50% of the planet’s population lives in cities) is one of the causes leading to the increase in the number of people suffering from mental disorders.
This may open up new frontiers in the study of activities that use the immersion in nature as therapy.
According to another study by Kate Lee and colleagues at the University of Melbourne published in Environmental Psychology, it seems that just looking at a picture of nature, for a few seconds, can bring some benefits. If we interrupt a task that puts us under pressure after a ‘micro-break’ of 40 seconds spent looking at the image of a green garden, our performance will improve. Therefore, the nature on the one hand helps us to free the mind of negative thoughts, the other helps us to recover the attention and concentration.
Here is the link of this second study: Gazing at Nature Makes You More Productive: An Interview with Kate Lee
Here is my conclusion:
If we found ourselves with a lot of negative thoughts that are buzzing in our mind, we can do something about that, just having a walk in nature will help us to reduce them and feel more positive.
Let’s keep it in our mind next time we feel negative.
You might also like to read:
5 Quotes about the benefits and the joy of walking
All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking – Friedrich Nietzsche
I have two doctors, my left leg and my right – G.M. Trevelyan
Thoughts come clearly while one walks – Thomas Mann
An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day – Henry David Thoreau
After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value – George Macauley Trevelyan