Walking in nature is not only a pleasant way to spend your time; it can also have a profound impact on your mental clarity and well-being. New research shows that spending time in natural environments, especially while walking, can improve cognitive function, boost mood, and reduce stress.
What the study shows
People strolling through an arboretum at the University of Utah performed better on brain function tests than those who walked around an asphalt-laden medical campus, according to findings published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.
To see how a nature walk might affect the brain, researchers recruited 92 participants and recorded EEG readings on each immediately before and after they had a 40-minute walk.
Half the participants walked through Red Butte Garden, an arboretum just east of the University of Utah, and the other half walked through the university’s medical campus and parking lots.
Both routes covered two miles, with similar amounts of elevation gain.
“We know exercise benefits executive attention as well, so we want to make sure both groups have comparable amounts of exercise,” says researcher Amy McDonnell, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Utah.
Before the walk, all participants undertook a mentally exhausting brain exercise, followed by an attention-testing task.
“We start out by having participants do a really draining cognitive task in which they count backwards from 1,000 by sevens, which is really hard,” McDonnell notes. “No matter how good you are at mental math, it gets pretty draining after 10 minutes.”
Participants performed the attention test again after their walk, to see how restorative the stroll had been for their minds.
Both the attention test and the EEG readings showed that a nature walk improved participants’ executive control better than