Can spending time outside change your brain?
I am coming to believe that being outside changes the way my brain works. It changes the way I think and feel.
Returning Home Has Been A Bit of A Struggle
I am sure that a lot of people experience some post trip blues upon returning home. You have to go back to work and there are bills to pay. For me the weather here in Canada in late March has been terrible. A few snow and ice storms and below freezing temperatures.
I hate it. Sorry. I know that this a very negative assessment but it is really bringing me down.
Luckily my friends and I have managed to get out for some hikes/walks in the woods on the days where is was decent enough to be outside. We are constantly commenting on how good it makes us feel.
It is more than just the weather though. I have been reading about the importance of being “grounded” with the earth. About how all of the wifi and electro-magnetic frequencies that we are bombarded with can disrupt out well being.
Being in nature helps to combat this. Jesus it just feels good to be in a quiet spot outside. We think more clearly. We are calmer. We are more energized.
So after six weeks of being on beaches, hiking and generally being outside and then being inside and cold it is no wonder I am not feeling as energetic and vibrant as when in Nicaragua.
Being in Nature Is Good For Your Mind
Certainly a breath of clean air works wonders on our respiratory systems and that sunlight generates vitamin D – the vitamin essential to healthy bones. However, an increasing amount of research from around the world is revealing a host of reasons why time immersed in the natural world is essential to the healthy functioning of our minds and bodies.
Going outside is good for your mind, specifically, going outside into a natural landscape. Brain scans show that a brain in nature showed more activity in the regions associated with stability, empathy, and love. In contrast, a brain in an urban setting showed fear and stress activity.
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1. Forests calm us down
Time among the trees has a proven positive impact on reducing stress levels and lowering blood pressure. Research undertaken in Japan, a country of long working days and high suicide rates, reveals that immersing yourself in the natural world significantly reduces stress levels and wards off depression. In response, Japan’s Forestry Agency has created a network of Forest Therapy trails on which rangers monitor visitors’ blood pressure.
2. Nature makes us more creative
According to David Strayer, Ph.D., a professor of Cognition and Neural Science at the University of Utah, “Modern multitasking overtaxes brain areas that are involved in suppressing distractions, thinking creatively, and developing a sense of identity.” Strayer discovered that a mere four days backpacking in nature improved people’s creativity by 50%.
3. Nature sounds good
What we listen to has a huge impact on our health and well being. Studies undertaken by leading sound expert Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency reveal the benefits of natural sound, as well as silence. An example Treasure cites is that humans find bird song reassuring. We intrinsically feel that all is good in the world if the birds are singing.
4. Nature smells good
Our sense of smell is closely linked to the parts of the brain responsible for processing emotion. The scents we inhale have an immediate and profound impact. Trees and plants emit phytoncides – a volatile organic compound and wood essential oil. Inhaling phytoncides slows down breathing and reduces anxiety. Residents of some east Asian countries partake in ‘forest bathing’ or Shinrin-yoku, an experience which allows us to be engulfed by, and breath in, the healing powers of phytoncides.
5. Water is good for body and soul
Research undertaken by the University of Exeter’s Medicine School details the essential role water plays in our psychological well being. Negative ions are natural antidepressants and found in bucket loads near water. As such walking trails beside lakes or along river banks are recommended for their benefits to emotional health. While those brave enough to take a dip will experience blood vessels dilating in cool water all of which encourages the body to expel toxins and release feel good endorphins.
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6. Nature helps us get better
According to research undertaken by Professor Roger Ulrich at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the countryside has a positive impact on convalescence. Ulrich’s research indicates that even a view of trees from a hospital window improves rates of recovery.
7. Dark skies help set our biological clocks
In 2009, the American Medical Association adopted a resolution in support of controlling light pollution and claimed that “many species (including humans) need darkness to survive and thrive”. Dark skies at night are conducive to the natural functioning of our body’s biological clock which is set by the nocturnal release of the hormone melatonin. One of the impacts of reduced amounts of melatonin is increased amounts of oestrogen, the hormone linked with breast cancer.
8. Children benefit from time outdoors
Yes we live in different times than when I was a kid. My friends and I were outside all the time. Playing in the woods. Building forts. That may not be the case anymore.
US journalist Richard Louv, who studies the links between family and nature, has coined the phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in describing the growing disconnection between children and nature. The outdoors is a rich environment for young children to immerse themselves in. Whether they are climbing trees or threading a daisy chain, playing outdoors emphasises experience above technology. It boasts children’s fitness, development, confidence and fuels their imaginations.
9. Teens benefit from outdoor education
For years organisations such as the Brathay Trust in Cumbria have worked with teenagers in the outdoors as a means of encouraging them to fulfill their potential. Good outdoor education has been recognized by Ofsted as contributing to improving pupils’ lives on a personal, social and emotional level.
10. Time outdoors is essential to healthy aging
Our world shrinks as we grow older. As it does all the physical, emotional and social benefits of the outdoors diminish in our lives. The connection between less time outdoors and the acceleration of dementia is considerable. The multiple authors of an Open University research paper entitled The impact of early dementia on outdoor life: A ‘shrinking world’? claim that “maintaining outdoor activity is likely to be an effective preventative measure in extending the period of good quality living”.
Do you crave spending time in nature? What are your favorite outdoor activities?
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“Change The Code. Change Your Life”