Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Walk In The Park

Brain Walk

Neighbourhood Park: The G. Ross Lord Park, a public park that is a few minutes walk from our residence, is one that we visit regularly. Gretchen Reynolds, in The New York Times, writes: A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.”
Photo Credit & Source: Perry J. Greenbaum

Aarticle, by Gretchen Reynolds, in The New York Times says that taking a walk in parks has a beneficial effect on one’s cognitive abilities and over-all mood; while the effect was slight, it was nevertheless scientifically significant. Why this is so is not completely or sufficiently understood, but what is known and observed is that the brain pattern alters after a walk in nature.

This study becomes important in light of previous studies that show that urban dwellers who do not have easy access to public parks (or greens space), have higher rates of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than those who do. (As I wrote in a previous post, I am fortunate that I not only reside next to a large public park, but also have a good view of it from my sixth-floor balcony.)

In “How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain” (July 22, 2015), Reynolds writes:
These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.
But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?
That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.
But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature. So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood.
Brooding is what we humans do when we have a hard problem to solve, and we figuratively turn it over in our minds. We ruminate trying to find a solution to it; while a change in setting is often helpful, going to a café or a shopping mall does not have the same effect, and neither does going to a museum, which, although informative and engaging, will not do the trick when dealing with a really knotty problem. It has something (or perhaps everything) to do with nature and what it provides: I also would suggest that walking heightens the ability to both problem solve and concentrate the mind where it is most needed.

Combined, the two give us humans something necessary that can’t be found in busy and noisy large cities: a quiet natural place to think. (Many people find that fishing on a lake provides the same calming effect on the mind; the reasons are no doubt similar.) Thus, public parks in urban areas are indescribably valuable to humanity—they are areas in which the sounds and sights of urban life are not found. Sometimes, life is a walk in the park, making life less anxious and more bearable.

One of the questions is whether solitary walks are preferable to walks with a companion or a group. You will notice, however, that even in groups people tend  to pair off. The answer, as is often the case, is “it depends.”

For more, go to [NYT]

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