Take Care Of Yourself Physically And Mentally By Taking One Hour To Walk In Nature

Walking is a great and low impact exercise that not only makes us physically healthier, but according to experts, it also boosts our mental health tremendously.

Going on a nature walk is already known to be a calming experience. You know, being one with nature and all that jazz. And as someone who enjoys white noise whenever my brain’s being too active, I always have some nature sounds, like falling rain or gushing rivers, ready to play to give me peace.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Maksim Shutov

A study was published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal, where researchers say just how much a nature walk can benefit one’s mental health.

The study’s results compare the effects of an hour of walking in nature against walking an hour in the city. So that’s walking in an environment surrounded by greenery versus walking in a pollution-filled concrete jungle.

Just one hour of walking in nature decreases amygdala activity in our brains, proved the researchers. In other words, walking can help us regulate our emotions better. In the study, the researchers wrote that a person can be more easily stressed in an urban environment compared to those who live in more rural areas.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Markus Ojanperä

The study recruited 63 participants who were divided randomly between team nature and team city. Team nature took their walk in a forest in Berlin, and team city took a walk on a busy street in the city. All participants were asked to refrain from checking their phones or, for those who were assigned to the city team, stop in stores while on their walk.

Before going on their walk, the participants filled out a questionnaire, performed a working memory task, and underwent an fMRI scan that measured two tasks: the Fearful Faces Task (FFT) and the Montreal Imaging Stress Task (MIST).

The FFT measured the participants’ brain activity while being shown 30 different faces that either had a neutral or scared expression. The MIST measured the brain activity as well but is designed to induce social stress in the participants by making them solve challenging arithmetic problems in a set amount of time.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Joshua Hoehne

After the walk, the participants underwent another fMRI scanning procedure, but now with a third task added, which is the Social-Evaluative Threat (SET) task that also induces social stress, and filled out another questionnaire.

The results showed that those who were on team nature experienced lower stress levels than those on team city.

“Living in an urban environment has been associated with mental health problems, like anxiety disorders, depression, and schizophrenia, with urban upbringing being the most important environmental factor for developing schizophrenia,” the researchers wrote.

The study also aimed to explore if stress relief is achieved due to exposure to the natural environment itself, or if it is simply just because of the absence of urban living stress, as mentioned above. The stress relief decrease was only present for those who went on a nature walk.

PHOTO: Unsplash/Ladyfern Photos

“The results of our study show that after only a 1-hour walk in nature, activity in brain regions involved in stress processing decreases… This is an important finding because it demonstrates for the first time a causal relationship between exposure to nature and change in stress-related brain regions,” said lead author Sonja Sudimac.

So, take some time off from the stress of urban living and dedicate at least an hour to getting in touch with nature. Parks can be a great alternative if there is no forest nearby your area. Take care of yourselves mentally and physically by breathing in some fresh air for as little as an hour!

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