A walk in the woods can cheer us up and soothe our jangled nerves.
But scientists now say it does more than that – it changes our brain chemistry.
Researchers recently took a closer look at how a walk in nature specifically affects something they call morbid rumination, or brooding.
Brooding, repeatedly thinking about things in our lives that have gone wrong, is not helpful or healthy.
The researchers used brain scans to check for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex. Lots of brain activity there signaled brooding behavior.
Volunteers had brain scans before and after a 90-minute walk. Half the group walked along a noisy highway. Half walked along a leafy natural path.
According to the New York Times, those who walked in a natural setting had a “meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk. They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.”
Many questions remain, but this is one of several recent studies pointing to the positive impact of visiting natural areas.
— BL Gross