One Hour in Nature Shapes the Brain

               If you notice feeling more centered and less stressed after spending time walking in nature, it’s not just an emotional response.  Even though we’ve understood the way nature can impact wellbeing, we’re now finding changes within the brain right after walking in nature which proves just how influential it can be.

                After walking for one hour in a forest, the brain experiences changes.  Research finds that when compared to shopping on a street with traffic, the walk in nature decreases activity in the brain regions that are activated during times of stress.  The biggest changes were seen in the amygdala, the region of the brain activated during stress and responsible for processing emotions like fear and anxiety.  Comparing the MRI scans of 63 healthy adult volunteers who either took a walk in nature or shopped in a metropolitan environment, the activity in the amygdala was decreased and more emotional wellbeing was achieved in those who walked in nature.

                The Japanese have a notion of a “forest bath” where walking or spending time in nature, especially around green trees, is extremely beneficial for mental health.  Most of us have experienced this ourselves, but the evidence shows that it’s making measurable changes within the brain.  In the experiment, even after walking in the urban environment, no increases in stress activity were noted.  Stress levels and amygdala activation remained stable, which is an interesting finding because some people have the opinion that city environments increase stress.

                While it’s not getting worse while in the city, stress levels can be mitigated and better emotional and mental health can be achieved within just one hour of walking among green areas.  It’s a great way to get exercise and find yourself in a better frame of mind than when you started.

Further Reading

Sonja Sudimac, Vera Sale, Simone Kühn. How nature nurtures: Amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature. Molecular Psychiatry, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41380-022-01720-6

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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