If we feel stressed, anxious and sad, the only medicine that really works is an hour's walk in nature or in a park. The important thing is that the surrounding environment is not urban. In fact, walking in the green acts directly on the brain, reducing the activity of some areas activated by stress and protecting mental health. This was demonstrated, for the first time, by a very recent scientific research published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry by a group of German scholars (Sudimac et al, Molecular Psychiatry, 2022). But let's understand better.
Mental health in the city
Living in an urban environment is considered the main cause of problems such as anxiety, depression but also schizophrenia. These conditions have an incidence of more than 55% in urban areas compared to rural areas. However, until now, the connection and what the effects of the surrounding environment could be on the brain level were not clear. To answer these questions, scientists have developed the research we are talking about today.
The benefits of a nature walk
Scientists recruited 63 volunteers, aged between 18 and 47. The study participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to walk for an hour in nature, in particular in a forest just outside Berlin, while the second group was asked to walk in an urban area, a shopping street with traffic in Berlin. Then, the brain activity of all the volunteers was assessed using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which is an imaging technique to evaluate the functionality of an organ, in this case the brain. Well, what emerged was that the activity of the amygdala decreased after an hour's walk in nature. The amygdala is a brain structure, almond-shaped, located in the innermost part of the temporal lobes of the brain. The amygdala is in fact our alarm system that allowed primitive men to survive. In the presence of a danger or something considered as such, even in the case of intense emotion, the amygdala puts the body in a position to protect itself and escape, increases the heart rate, blood pressure and blood flow, glucose reaches the muscles in greater quantities while other organs, such as the gastrointestinal system, are slowed down. This is why it can happen, when we feel fear, a feeling of dry mouth and throat. Hyperactivity of the amygdala is connected to stress, anxiety, panic attacks and bipolar disorder. So, since an hour's walk in nature has reduced the activity of the amygdala, walking in nature contributes to mental health, reducing the risk of developing conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress but also related diseases such as schizophrenia.
Here is further proof that nature is one of our greatest allies for our mental health. A walk in a park, among the trees, or in the woods can act as a real medicine reducing stress and ensuring greater brain health.