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It’s a commonly prescribed remedy for stress and anxiety, but scientists say spending time in nature has more health benefits than we think.

Walking in nature changes your brain. Here's how

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Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Wednesday, April 13, 2016, 3:38 PM - It’s a commonly prescribed remedy for stress and anxiety, but scientists say spending time in nature has more health benefits than we think.

Stanford University’s Gregory Bratman and colleagues recently conducted a study that proves walking through nature physically changes the way blood flows to the brain.

Bratman and his team found that those who briefly strolled through a green, lush part of Stanford’s campus were more attentive and happier when compared to volunteers who walked for the same amount of time by heavy traffic. They also saw a shift in the amount of blood flowing to the subgenual prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that has a heightened blood flow linked to morbid rumination.


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The scientists examined a person’s tendency to brood – a mental state in which people overthink the flaws within themselves and their lives, also known as morbid rumination. As The New York Times notes, brooding is an initial step in the spin toward depression, and it’s increasingly common among city residents rather than those living outside urban areas.

Bratman and his colleagues found that this type of thought is associated with heightened activity in the brain’s subgenual prefrontal cortex. So the group of scientists had 38 healthy, adult city locals to answer a series of question to determine how often they experience morbid rumination.


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They then had half of their subjects spend 90 minutes walking through a green, quiet, park-esque part of Stanford’s campus. The other half walked alongside a chaotic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto.

Those who walked along the highway saw blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high, and their level of broodiness went unchanged. But those who walked through the quiet, greenery-enclosed spaces saw slight but significant improvements in their mental health, based on their questionnaire scores. There was also a decrease in blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

Spending time in nature has proven to have remarkable effects on one’s overall health, but a key variable in Bratman’s study was the lack of electronic devices.

Subjects were allowed to walk at their own pace, but they could not listen to music or be connected to technology.

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SOURCE: The New York Times | Study: Science Direct

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