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Attention, don't underestimate the effect of a forest trek on your mental health: A recent study dated last July 2015 suggests that a walk of 90 minutes in a natural environment could cause changes in the brain and could help fight depression.
Previous research had already shown that a walk of only 50 minutes in nature can improve your mood, decrease your anxiety and even improve your memory !!. Now also, in this new study, published last July 2015 in PNAS (diario científico oficial de la National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), the research team wanted to see if they could understand what the mechanisms might be that generate these positive effects. See original study in: www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.abstract
For this they decided to focus specifically on what psychologists call "mericist thoughts", which have been shown to predict depressive episodes.
According to Gregory Bratman, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental science from Stanford University and the lead author of the study: "Mericist thinking is that which focuses on the negative aspects of oneself".
Examples of mericism include spending a lot of time thinking about embarrassing or disappointing moments in the past, or repeating things you have said or done recently.
To see how a walk in nature affects mericist thinking, the researchers randomized 38 volunteers with no history of mental illness to take a field trip 90 minutes in an urban green space near Palo Alto (California) and to a noisy, busy street with three to four lanes of traffic in each direction.
Just before starting your walks, all participants were taken to the laboratory, where they completed a questionnaire 12 questions about mericism, responding to statements such as "I often reflect on episodes in my life that should no longer concern me" or "Sometimes it is difficult for me to turn off thoughts about myself".
Their brains were also scanned using a neural imaging technique that allowed the researchers to measure the amount of blood flowing through the subgenual prefrontal cortex., which is an area of the brain that lights up when a person engages in mericism.
The participants were then taken on a nature walk and an urban walk. The researchers also gave volunteers smartphones and instructed them to take photos along the way.. The photos were used to verify that the participants had actually done the walks. Both tours were held in locations located just 15 minute drive to lab. When the 90 minutes, volunteers were brought back to the lab, where they completed the questionnaire on mericism again and had another brain scan.
Walk in Mountain “versus” City: your brain prefers the mountain!!
The results were what they expected: Researchers found that those who took the nature walk showed reductions in mericist thought values and in excess blood flow directed to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, therefore, both the tests and the brain scan agreed that negative mericist thoughts had decreased after the nature walk. However, no significant change was observed in the participants who took the urban walk.
It is a first study but the researchers continue to advance in their plans to find out for how long nature has this positive effect on our brain and what type of landscape generates the best effects on our thoughts, so we will have to wait for future studies to know these details, meanwhile you know, it is better to walk in nature than in urban environments, your brain and your mental health will thank you.
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