Outside with trees is better than inside cement buildings: your brain waves say so

Oh my. Here we go with another article about a scientific brain research project. This time it’s about urban dwellers who are stressed:

“Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show. ”

Funny, I always thought a brooder was a chicken who was desperate to feather her nest and hatch an egg.

But hey, if you lived in a huge city like Atlanta, New York, Chicago or Miami, who wouldn’t be stressed? Constant motion, noise, traffic, air pollution, potential for violence, expenses, high pressure jobs and the list goes on. So researcher Gregory Bratman knew that people who went for a walk in a green space brooded less, but he wanted to know why.  Here’s what he discovered:

“… rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex. If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people’s minds.”

So they gathered 38 adults who lived in the city and “asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.”

Can you imagine taking a test asking you your level of morbid rumination? I can see it now. The pharmaceutical companies will be selling you a “green space in a pill.”

Here’s what Bateman did next:

“The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.”

What did they find? Well, if the participants went for a walk on a crowded city street, they didn’t feel much better. But if they spent time hearing some birds chirp in a green park, there was an improvement in their subgenual prefrontal cortex. Bateman wants to do more specific environmental research, but he did say this:

“These results ‘strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments’ could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers.”

Duh. How much money did he spend to find that out? Man has known for thousands of years that going up in the country is far better than miles of cement.

(Photo credit: David Samuels)





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