It’s no secret that one of the things I love best to do is to walk in the woods. My love started as a kid and taking Sunday drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina. My family also owned a bit of land in the mountains that we spent a lot of time on—camping, playing in the woods, wading in the creek. I wasn’t surprised to learn that research shows that contact with nature provides us with several health benefits.
A MEMORY BOOST
In a University of Michigan study, a group of students were asked to take a memory test that involved repeating numbers back to researchers. The researchers then divided the students into two groups. Group A took a walk around an arboretum and Group B walked along a busy city street. Afterwards, they took the memory test again. Group A, the students who had walked in the arboretum, performed 20% better on the memory test. Group B didn’t show any significant improvement. Additional research has corroborated the memory-enhancing effects of nature.
A MOOD BOOST
Observing the benefits nature has for cognitive function, scientists wondered what effect it might have on individuals diagnosed with depression. In one study from the University of Sussex, participants with major depressive disorder reported an improvement in self-esteem and mood after spending time in nature. Exercising while in nature resulted in even more of a mood boost for participants.
A CALMING EFFECT
Research also shows that spending time in nature reduces stress. In a study conducted by Chiba University in Japan, participants spent two nights in the forest. Researchers evaluated their levels of stress hormones during and after this period and compared it to their normal work days in the city. Across the board, participants’ stress levels were much lower during the days spent in the forest and for several days afterwards.
Today, we’re less connected to our natural environment than our ancestors were. But nature is still accessible and you don’t have to go far to find it. When it comes to public park systems, Arlington’s ranks near the top of the nation’s 100 largest cities. That’s according to the Trust for Public Land’s Park Score Index® index, which recently ranked the county fourth on its list. Neighboring Washington, DC ranked third. In many studies, even minor exposure to the outdoors, like adding plants to your home or looking out a window during work showed health benefits. This year, find ways to bring a little more nature into your life each day. Your brain will thank you!