Stanford researchers writing in PNAS suggest that walking in nature has powerful effects on the brain. The results are especially acute compared to people who walk primarily in urban environments, who have higher rates of anxiety and mood disorders than those in suburban or rural areas. The study’s authors sought to determine if this disconnect could be explained by nature exposure. Watch them explain their results below:
The study’s two groups of participants spent 90 minutes walking in a grassy natural setting or 90 minutes walking along a busy roadway. For those on the nature walk, brain scans before and after showed decreased thought patterns linked to depression. The nature walkers also answered a mood-determining questionnaire differently after just 90 minutes.
Researchers aren’t sure how much time in nature is required to achieve the desired effects, and the brain scans themselves are not conclusive. But the study isn’t the first to demonstrate similar results, and the its authors say their findings could underline the importance of natural public projects in rapidly urbanizing environments. Put another way: Your local greenspace could be your own personal therapist’s couch.