— Now Hear This

A psychiatrist explains that Mother Nature can change the way our brains work

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More than 50% of the world lives in an urban setting, and that number is expected to increase to over 70% by 2050. As fun as city living can be, it comes at a cost. There’s a higher likelihood for mental illness, anxiety, and depression, demonstrating that urban life simply leaves more stressed-out.

Recent studies have shown, though, that a short trip into nature can help us calm down, and rewire our brains to relax much, much more.

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Dr. Emily Deans, an evolutionary psychiatrist, wrote a Psychology Today piece about a study that was conducted at Stanford University. Dr. Gregory Bratman led two groups of people for a 5K walk in the San Francisco Bay Area. One took a stroll through a crowded street and the other was taken on a scenic mountain route. The results that followed were pretty astounding.

The people who got to look at nature on their walk experienced less negative feelings running through their head and a decreased amount of anxiety. But it wasn’t just what they felt that mattered. Researchers performed cognitive tests on both groups and the MRIs revealed that the people who were in the midst of Mother Nature had less brain activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that worries incessantly and ruminates. It’s often associated with depression and anxiety.

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This didn’t happen for the people who stayed in the city on their 5K walk.

Deans says this is the perfect call to get ourselves out there in nature more often, because it could be the key to instantly reducing stress. That doesn’t mean it replaces other treatments for mental illness or anxiety, such as therapy or medication, but it could serve as the perfect supplement.

Besides, taking a walk out in a green field is free, so you’ve got nothing to lose.