This Is Your Brain On Nature

Spoiler: It's awesome.

08/10/2015 08:17 am ET | Updated Aug 12, 2015

John Muir, one of America's most influential conservationists, once wrote that "going to the woods is going home."

If you've ever emerged from a hike or camping trip only to find with a clearer mind, you know exactly what Muir means. Nature has a way of providing comfort when you need it the most. It resets your thoughts and puts you at peace -- just like a visit home would.

But poetic love letters to the great outdoors aside, there is actually some significant value to Muir's musings when it comes to greenery. Research consistantly finds that nature has a profound impact on the brain.

Read on to discover just some of the ways the great outdoors can transform your mental space.

Oliver Rossi via Getty Images

Being in nature makes you feel more alive.

A 2010 study from the University of Rochester found that spending time outdoors not only makes you happier, it also can lead to an increased sense of vitality. This could be why we feel so energized -- mentally and physically -- when we return from spending a day in the park or going on a hike. Nature can lead to a surge of energy, according to the researchers. 

Nature is restorative.

In an analysis of research on how nature keeps us calm, Atlantic writer Adam Atler explains why being outside is like hitting the reset button on our brains. The key, he writes, is through a psychological process known as attention restoration theory:

The difference between natural and urban landscapes is how they command our attention. While man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we'd like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources.

It relieves depressive symptoms.

Just a quick walk in the park can do wonders for your mind. A 2014 study found that participants who took group nature walks saw a host of mental-health benefits, including decreased depression and better moods. Not only that, taking a walk in nature gets you the additional benefit of exercise, which also boasts some mental health perks.

Green space makes you more creative.

A 2012 study found that looking at the color green may help spark your inventiveness. You could also argue that being outside can distract your mind from a problem -- and as we know, some of the best ideas come when we're not thinking about them in the first place (why else do you get all of your brilliant ideas in the shower?).

It could improve your sense of focus.

There's a reason why New York has a large selection of parks -- cities can have a negative influence on the brain, according to a 2011 study. Think about the number of stimuli you encounter in a busy urban area: traffic, coffee shops, throngs of people. These distractions impact the area of your brain that controls your directed attention and your self control, The Boston Globe reported. The antidote? Nature.

Studies suggest that the great outdoors may help with attention. One small 1990s study found that women who lived in Chicago apartments that overlooked a grassy area saw better improvements on basic attention tests than those who looked over concrete areas

Nature makes you less stressed.

Less stress is perhaps one of the most transformative and obvious ways that nature regulates our mental space.  One small study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that adults who lived in areas with the most amount of green space experiences lower levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. They also self-reported feeling lower stress than city dwellers.

Research also suggests that being in nature can have a healing effect. It can help reduce feelings of fear or anger, lower your blood pressure and contributes to psychological well-being overall.

Ready to head outdoors yet?


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