Stanford study measures health benefits of nature walks

July 6, 2015, 10:47 a.m.
A beautiful path leads over a creek and into a forest of trees.
Photo: visionteller/Shutterstock

It should come as no surprise that walking in the woods is good for your physical and mental health. It's a topic we've covered several times here on Mother Nature Network. However, the research continues — about how it's good for you and why it's beneficial and, importantly, just how much good it does. Most of us know we feel a bit better after time in the wilderness but is it all just in our heads? Nope! Researchers from Stanford show that we can measure how a walk in nature does a body good. They showed quantifiable results that it reduces the risk of depression.

According to the researchers, people living in cities have a 20 percent higher risk for anxiety disorders, a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders and even have a higher risk of developing schizophrenia. Retreats to natural spaces can mitigate this.

Stanford News reports, "[T]he study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression... The researchers found little difference in physiological conditions, but marked changes in the brain. Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment."

In other words, the National Park System should be considered a public health service! Creating and maintaining parks, open space preserves, state and national parks and even small green spaces within the urban landscape where nature is accessible are vital to a happy country.

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