One hour spent in nature reduces stress

(ORDO NEWS) — Maybe it’s time to get out in nature if you live in an urban area.

Scientists have long figured out that a walk in the fresh air can do wonders for a person’s mental health. However, what they still didn’t know was why this happens.

A new study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry found that a 60-minute walk in nature resulted in lower stress-related markers in the brain, showing some of the first causal evidence for mental health benefits of walking.

To better understand the relationship, researchers from the Lise Meitner Group of Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development took 63 volunteers and asked them to take either a walk in nature (in this case in a forest) or a walk in an urban environment.

MRI scans were used to record brain activity before and after walking, looking for markers of stress from activity in the amygdala.

The amygdala has previously been shown to be more active in people living in cities than in those living in rural areas, and given its important role in processing emotions and fear, it acts as an important marker of stress.

After walking in nature, participants showed lower amygdala activity, suggesting that walking reduces stress levels and may counteract the negative effects associated with the city.

“The results support the previously suggested positive relationship between nature and brain health, but this is the first study to prove a causal relationship.

Interestingly, brain activity after a city walk in these regions remained stable and did not show an increase, which is contrary to the conventional wisdom that being in an urban environment causes additional stress,” said Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Environmental Neurology Group.

The findings could have an important impact on how we deal with mental health issues and even how we should design residential areas in the future, as previous research has shown a strong link between urban living and mental disorders.

Access to green spaces could act as a barrier between city-related stress and even protect against risk factors for mental health problems if more mechanisms are uncovered.

Even a short stay in the natural environment can help eliminate the effects of the concrete jungle, for example, Canada is already issuing passes to national parks for people with depression or anxiety.

So, maybe it’s time to go outside, take a walk in the fresh air.

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