August 23, 2020
We all get it…
We need to spend more time outdoors…
We tend to overlook the powerful impact that nature has on optimising our brain health and performance and are we really listening to what the research has to say on the subject?
‘Ecopsychology’ - the study of how nature impacts our health - physically, mentally and emotionally - is a rapidly expanding area of research.
In this post, you’re going to learn 3 points on what the research has to say, and you’ll soon come to realise why this Core Life Element (CLE) is 1 of the 8 for providing a foundation for your LYFE Quest; that is, your quest to live AND maintain a healthy lifestyle.
1. 120 Minutes Per Week is a Must
A study of 20,000 people at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spend 2 hours a week in nature - local parks and other natural environments - report significantly higher levels of health and psychological well-being than those who don’t.
120 minutes precisely is what was found to be required in order to see these results, with no benefits being shown for anything less than this. The study was robust, cutting across different occupations, ethnic groups, socioeconomic groups and people with a range of chronic illnesses.
We’ve known for a long time that getting outdoors can be good for you but until recently we haven’t been able to say how much time is enough. Back in 2005, there were only about 60 good studies on the topic, whereas now, we are getting close to about 1000. A target of 2 hours is more than realistic for most people given that this time can be spread out over the course of the week.
As we can see, spending time outdoors is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-to-have and the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, coined by the journalist, Richard Louv, is becoming more and more popular.
2. Walking in Nature Reduces Rumination
The results of a study in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences titled ‘Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenus prefrontal cortex activation’, strongly suggest how getting into natural environments is an easy and almost immediate way to improve your mood if you live in the city.
They found that participants who went on a 90-minute walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk of depression, the subgenus prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), compared with those who walked through an urban environment. The study provides an explanation for one possible mechanism by which nature carries positive psychological benefits.
3. Nature Gives Your Brain Time to Relax
David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah explains how our brains, whilst being miraculous and amazing organs, do get fatigued. The daily stresses of life grind us down, physically and mentally. This fatigue gradually builds up over time, leading to reduced brain performance e.g. reduced creativity or innovative thinking, and we tend to make decisions which are not always optimal for the situation at hand.
Strayer and his colleagues used a portable EEG to measure brain waves during a three day ‘nature retreat’ and compared this to the typical brain waves in every day life. The research found that prolonged exposure outdoors improves higher-order cognitive skills, and they speculated that this might be due to nature activating the default mode network in the brain; an area which is normally engaged when we daydream or spend time in introspection. As a side note, the use of technology has been shown to disrupt the default mode network, further highlighting the importance of spending time in nature.
This 3 point list is by no means exhaustive, and this growing field is rapidly gaining momentum.
We have entered the urban century and given that 2/3rds of humanity predicted to be living in cities by 2050, understanding the positive impacts that nature can have on your health, and integrating outdoor practices into your lifestyle is going to be critical.
2 hours a week, that’s all you need!
(NOTE: If you want to take it to the next level and are looking for something a bit different, Freshwalks, in Liverpool, offer a range of walks covering countryside, coast, mountains and moorlands. Its a brilliant place to meet genuine people who are interesting in helping each other and their respective communities or businesses. Head over to https://www.freshwalks.co.uk to check them out!).