A walk in the park improves cognitive abilities and mood

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Take a hike. Or a walk in the park. Either may have psychological benefits for people suffering from depression.

“Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment,” said Dr. Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, who cautioned that walks do not replace traditional therapy, but can enhance it. “Walking in nature may act to supplement or enhance existing treatments for clinical depression, but more research is needed to understand just how effective nature walks can be to help improve psychological functioning.”

Dr. Berman’s research is part of a cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART). It suggests that people concentrate better after spending time in nature. Researchers believe that people interact with nature settings in a more focused manner without being bombarded by external distractions that burden working memory and attention systems. In nature, the brain can relax and enter a state of contemplativeness which restores cognitive capacities.

For this study, participants were asked to consider a traumatic personal experience. They were then asked to take a walk through a nature preserve. After the walk they took a series of standardized tests to measure their attention and short-term/working memory and were re-assessed for mood. They repeated the process again a week later. Participants showed a 16% increase in attention, the walk did not better mood any more than an urban walk.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Psychological Science

Photo by John Nyboer

 
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