Walk in nature© Unsplash

This Experiment Shows What Just One Hour In Nature Does To Your Stress Levels

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

The results are in. Being in nature is actually good for you. GASP!

Are you really surprised by that information? Numerous kinds of research would attest to the fact that city life is not great for your health. Studies have linked urban environments to an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

Taking a break from the fast-paced city lives and the urban jungles we inhabit can be associated with a wide range of mental and physical health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety and depression, better mood, focus, and sleeping patterns, along with a faster ability to heal.

Some research also indicates that the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing stress, emotional learning, and controlling the fight-or-flight response, is not as engaged in residents of rural settings, as opposed to city dwellers. So is there an actual link between the state of the amygdala and the time we spend out in nature?

A group of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany, decided to investigate and come up with an answer to the question with an experiment, with the help of some volunteers and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

For the study, the researchers got 63 healthy adult volunteers on board and asked them to fill out questionnaires, perform a working memory task, and undergo fMRI scans while answering questions, some of which were designed to induce stress. These volunteers weren’t informed of the goal of the research.

The participants were then randomly assigned to take one-hour walks in either an urban setting (a busy shopping district) or a natural one (the Grunewald forest in Berlin). They were told to walk a specific route for an hour without going off-course or using their mobile phones. After the walk, each participant took another fMRI scan while performing a stress-inducing task and answering another questionnaire.

The scans revealed that the participants who walked in nature showed reduced activity in the amygdala. They also displayed greater attention restoration and reported more enjoyment of the walk than their urban setting counterparts.

“The results support the previously assumed positive relationship between nature and brain health, but this is the first study to prove the causal link,” writes environmental neuroscientist Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development.

This is the clearest evidence of the direct benefits of nature on our stress levels yet but the researchers believe more investigation needs to be done to understand the reasons behind the state of amygdala in urban settings.

If this is not enough of a wake-up call for you to take that trip to the countryside, then we don’t know what is!