“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life” – John Muir
The scientific community may not have evidence to back up John Muir’s famous quote, but they do have evidence to prove that a walk in the woods has more benefit on your brain than an equivalent walk in a city. According to a study conducted by Dr. Marc Berman of Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute, a nature walk can improve cognitive function and memory by as much as 20 percent.
In 2008, Dr. Berman and associates from the University of Michigan began studying the effects of natural landscapes versus urban environments on the cognitive function in humans. They discovered that taking a walk through a park or arboretum improved cognitive function in test subjects up to 20 percent, while a walk down a busy city street resulted in very little or no improvement at all. In addition, they found that even staring at a picture of nature had slight improvements on the test subject’s cognitive function, while subjects viewing pictures of cityscapes and industrial buildings resulted in no improvement.
The Attention Restoration Theory, which states that human attention is split into two different types: involuntary attention and directed attention, helps to explain Dr. Berman’s findings. Involuntary attention is activated by whatever stimuli is most immediate to our survival, while direct attention is used to override the involuntary attention and resolve conflicts. Dr. Berman explains that “nature, which is filled with intriguing stimuli, modestly grabs attention in a bottom-up fashion, allowing top-down directed-attention abilities a chance to replenish.” However, cities and urban environments are full of demanding stimuli that require a large amount of directed attention to navigate, making the walk a much less restorative process.
A nice afternoon stroll on the trail or through your local park can help keep you sharp at your desk and during those afternoon meetings. In addition, walking itself provides a wide range of physical health benefits such as increased energy, stronger muscles and bones, and decreased risk for health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Not to mention, it’s free! Find the closest park to your office, or a peaceful trail near your house, and plan an afternoon to catch up with a friend or take an evening to yourself and enjoy the brilliant colors of the fall foliage. Your mind and your boss, I mean body, will thank you.
To stay hydrated while you walk:
Read more about Dr. Berman’s study: