How long you have to walk outside to see a boost in your sanity

There’s a reason why nature sounds — birds chirping, running streams, falling rain — are often sound options for white noise machines and meditation apps: they’re soothing.

A new small study published in Molecular Psychiatry underscores this further. The study found that a one-hour walk in nature reduces stress compared to a one-hour walk in a busy urban environment.

The study followed 63 people who were randomly assigned to either a nature walk or an urban walk. The nature walk took place in a forest in Berlin and the city walk took place on a busy city street.

Participants were instructed not to check their phones or stop at shops during their walk. They were given a lunch bag and a phone with a 30 minute timer that told them to turn back.

Prior to the walk, participants completed a questionnaire and then underwent an fMRI that measured two tasks.

The first task measured brain activity during a “fearful faces task”, in which participants saw 15 female and 15 male faces that had a neutral or frightened expression. The second task measured was brain activity during a “Montreal Imagery Stress Task,” which is designed to create a level of stress in participants. During the task, participants were given a set amount of time to solve difficult arithmetic problems.

After the walk, participants completed another questionnaire and underwent another fMRI that measured the same tasks they performed before their walk.

The results showed that nature significantly improved people’s stress levels.

The study found that those who took part in the 60-minute nature walk experienced lower stress levels after spending time outdoors.

“The results of our study show that after only [a] an hour of walking in nature decreases activity in brain regions involved in processing stress,” Sonja Sudimac, the study’s lead author, told Medical News Today.

In particular, the researchers found that activity in the brain’s amygdala (responsible for our reaction to stress and fear) decreased in those who were part of the nature walking group.

This decrease was not seen in people who completed the city walk. According to the study, urban environments can have a negative impact on mental health, leading to increased rates of anxiety, depression and mood disorders. (Just think of the stress that comes with frequent honking, racing to catch a bus, or long lines just to get groceries.)

In fact, other studies show that mental health can suffer in urban areas due to the crowded nature of cities and, in general, the increased amount of stressors in the environment.

A one-hour nature walk caused a decrease in the stress response in study participants.

It should be noted that the study had some limitations: all participants were from a similar background, and the study could not control who the participants saw during their walk. So, for example, if someone on a walk in the forest saw someone relaxing on their day off, this could have further diminished the stress response in the participant.

This study also only focused on the benefits of an hour-long nature walk – it’s unclear whether the same positive results would occur in a shorter time frame. But, Sudimac told Medical News Today that there is evidence that levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop after a 15-minute walk in nature, which would make a version of this study looking at people interesting. shorter walks.

Plus, outside of this study, there’s extensive research on the positive effects of being outdoors, so it’s not hard to conclude that even a few minutes outdoors is better than nothing.

Beyond stress reduction, nature has other benefits.

Dr. Tamanna Singh, co-director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Heart Center, previously told HuffPost that walking in nature also has additional mental health benefits.

“Many of us just can’t get enough of nature, and a walk is a fantastic way to focus on the air, to walk on mother earth, to listen to the rustle of the leaves, the chirping birds, basically ‘forest bathing,'” she said. said.

Forest bathing has a number of benefits, she pointed out: it can help improve mindfulness, can be meditative and can improve your breathing.

Spending time outdoors has also been shown to improve your sleep, increase your creativity, and boost your immune function.

Whether you live in the city or in a rural area, try to favor nature walks.

The results are clear: spending time in nature is good for your mental health. But don’t be discouraged if you live in town. Importantly, the study’s nature walk took place in an urban forest in the city of Berlin.

So even a simple walk in your local park or nature reserve can help you achieve a sense of calm. The key is to get around green spaces and dedicate 60 minutes to moving your body and soaking up the outdoors.


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