Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Our Brains Prefer Nature

It's something all of us who enjoy the outdoors already know, even if we don't know why. Being surrounded by nature instead of a busy city makes us feel better. Our minds are more at ease, and our stress seems to just drift away.

We each have our preferences. Some prefer the calming patterns of water, others enjoy the simplicity of the desert, and many of us can't get enough of the majesty of the mountains or the oxygen-rich greenery of the forest.

If you're the sort of person who likes to ask "why", a new study out of the University of Michigan has looked into the way in which walking through a city affects our brains differently from walking in a park or wilderness setting. The Boston Globe ran an article on it early in the new year.

Apparently all of the little things we need to think about in the city - not walking into other people, not getting run over crossing the road - and all of the distractions we need to filter out because they aren't important - other people's conversations, contents of shop windows etc. - just wear us down. It's a constant strain on our brains processing all of that input.

Out in nature, there is much less to process, and it becomes much more obvious what we need to focus on. For instance, following a track or climbing a mountain clearly require your attention. Blocking out details like assessing each individual tree is much better hard-wired into our brains than the recently introduced urban landscape.

So the next time you decide to head out of town for the weekend, think of it as an opportunity to recharge your brain's batteries. You should see improvements in your mood, your attention span, and your memory. And if you can't make it out of town, apparently it's even helpful to go look at a tree for a while.


Outdoor Culture said...

Too right Michelle.

We evolved to play, learn and work in natural surroundings. Away from the outdoors we are literally out of our element.

'Nature-deficit-disorder' is a public health problem that we should all be concerned about.

Al x

Maple Kiwi said...

Nature-deficit-disorder - I like that!