Hiking Is Good For Your Mental Health!

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We knew this! Right?

It doesn’t have to be a major production…just a walk in the park. Or the woods. Maybe even your quiet neighborhood. Get out and enjoy! It’s Good For You!

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Previous research has shown that just a 50-minute walk in nature can improve your mood, decrease your anxiety and even improve your memory. But for the new study, published this week in PNAS, the research team wanted to see if they could understand what the mechanisms for these positive effects might be.

To help them figure it out, they decided to focus specifically on what psychologists call “rumination,” which has been shown to predict depressive episodes.

“Ruminative thought means something very specific in psychology,” said Gregory Bratman, a PhD candidate in environmental science at Stanford University and the lead author of the study. “It is repetitive thought that is focused on negative aspects of the self.”

To see how a walk in nature affects ruminative thought, the researchers randomly assigned 38 volunteers with no history of mental illness to take a 90-minute walk in an urban green space near Palo Alto or a loud, busy street with three to four lanes of traffic in each direction.

Participants were then driven either to the nature walk or the urban walk.

The researchers found that those who went on the nature walk showed reductions in self-reported rumination. They observed no significant changes in the urban walkers.

“It was quite remarkable to us,” Bratman said. “Especially because we weren’t asking people ‘How do you feel right now?’ We were asking, ‘How do you tend to think?’ To change anything about how one describes how they think is quite compelling.”

But he added that the work to quantify how nature affects our psychology has only just begun.

For example, he’d like to determine what it is about the natural environment that causes a decrease in rumination. He’d also like to figure out how long an encounter with nature would have to be to have desirable effects, and whether it would differ by landscape.

“We are trying to bring everything into the lab and tease apart the factors that do and don’t have an impact,” he said.

Ultimately, Bratman hopes that his research will help inform urban planning.

“Urbanization is increasing at an unprecedented rate, and we’re also seeing an uptick in the rates of anxiety disorders and depression in cities,” he said. “We want to figure out how do we bring more nature to people.”

Thanks to Deborah Netburn and LA Times, see original article:  http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-nature-mental-health-20150629-story.html

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

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