[This is another post in the series, Summer in Wisconsin: Woodlands, Wetlands, Monarchs, and Rocks.” What began as one of several items for a “roundup” of summer notes, has grown into five separate blogposts, published one at a time in this first and second week of August. You can access all the Summer in Wisconsin series by clicking on those words; they are listed among the categories at the end of each post.]
A Walk in the Woods Can Change Your Mind
We’ve always known this, intuitively, right? A walk in the woods, or on a path next to a stream or lake, is good for us, and good for our mental health. Now a research project at Stanford University seems to offer the science-based truth of this common sense belief.
I found the news of this all over Facebook – in my own news feed and at pages I often visit such as Wisconsin Wetlands Association, Door County Land Trust, and Gathering Waters. For those who may not have seen it, I pass it on.
[The author of The Badger & The Whooping Crane has been lucky, this year, experiencing a number of really wonderful woodland walks. Here are photos from four favorites – beginning in Wisconsin’s Door County, January 3rd, at the North Bay Preserve – left, and below.]
Published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by a team of Stanford researchers asserts that there is a growing body of evidence that links urbanization – or “decreased nature experience” with the “development of mental illness.” Wanting to know more about that, the team focused on a negative thinking pattern commonly known as “brooding,” – described by cognitive scientists as “morbid rumination.” Others studies have shown that such thinking can be a precursor to depression and is more common among city-dwellers than people outside urban areas.
[On the left, Spanish Moss hangs from the trees on one of the many loops of the Hiking Nature Trail that extends nearly 40 miles through the Myakka River State Park. This Florida state park is nine miles due east of Sarasota. Below right, the trail runs through a marsh. Both the hike and the photos were taken March 30, 2015.]
In this just-published study the research included brain scans of 38 healthy, urban-dwelling volunteers who had spent 90 minutes walking; half walked in a natural setting, and the others spent their time walking in an urbanized, heavy traffic area. The part of the brain associated with brooding – the sub genual prefrontal cortex – showed less blood flow, therefore less morbid rumination activity, among those who had spent their time in the natural world.
[On Memorial Day weekend I joined one of the many field trips sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation, and spent a morning getting to know the ecology of Moonlight Bay’s bedrock beach (pictured below, right), and hiking through the adjacent State Natural Area.]
It may seem like a “no-brainer,” but really, discovering how a part of the human brain reacts to this natural remedy – getting outdoors for a long walk – is news that could potentially be used for the good of everyone by other professionals; pros like architects and urban planners, perhaps.
[This was a beautiful summer day in mid-June, and a hike to Mosquito Beach (see the trailhead, left) at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was followed by a stop at the Miner’s Castle Information Center and Overlook, where the photo (below right) featuring a glimpse of the Miner’s Castle rock formation, was taken.
To read more about this study linking nature walks with good mental health, you can visit the link above (to an item at the New York Times) or at this one to The Atlantic. The Times includes a link to an abstract of the study itself. The Atlantic has a link to a long-ago article in its archive by one of its authors who described the benefits of the natural world over the developed one. And you probably can guess the name of that author: Henry David Thoreau.