If you have always despised a simple nature’s walk in the quiet woods, then this is for you: just a 90-minute of hiking can help you to reduce depression! All you need to do is to have a regular stroll in a quiet and natural environment. This will bring some adjustments in your brain to combat depression and other negativity thoughts.
A recent research by Gregory Bratman, a Ph.D. student of environmental science at Stanford University and the lead researcher in this study found that negative thoughts and other forms of depression can be best countered by strolling into a solitude place while embracing the beauty and quietness of the surrounding environment. This study was also aimed at finding out if the increasing cases of urban anxiety disorders are caused by the kind of environment exposed to the affected person.
Previously, research findings showed that only 50 minutes of a walk were needed to improve one’s mood and lower anxiety disorders which ultimately improves the overall thinking memory. This was said to decrease the blood pressure in the brain and hence reducing stress.
The new research study’s findings were published last month in the PNAS science magazine. The team undertook the new research to ascertain if it could be possible to understand the needed environmental mechanisms for bringing about these positive effects.
In the research, the team focused on rumination (a term psychologists use to predict depression incidents). This is because ruminative thoughts have for a long time been used to interpret something very specific in the field of psychology. Rumination is also described as a repetitive thought that focuses on one’s negative aspects. This includes thinking a lot about frustrating or embarrassing moments or reminding oneself of the disappointing things done or said some time ago.
To ascertain if a walk in a natural environment can affect ruminative thoughts, the team selected 38 random volunteers with no mental illness records to be used as research variables. Some of them were assigned to take a one and half hour walk in the urban green spaces and others were assigned to walk on very lousy and busy streets with heavy traffic just a few miles from Palo Alto.
The participants were brought into the research lab and asked to fill in questionnaires with 12 questions about their rumination experiences before they were sent out for the walking assignment. In the questionnaires, the respondents were also asked to either agree or disagree on a five-point scale, with these statements; “I often reflect on episodes in my life that I should no longer concern myself with” or “Sometimes it is hard for me to shut off thoughts about myself”.
The participants also had their brains scanned with a neural imaging procedure that helped the researchers to quantify the blood flow rate through the brain’s subgenual prefrontal cortex which lights up in case someone gets a rumination.
After the initial assessment, some participants were then taken to the green spaces for a nature walk and others brought to busy streets for the urban walk. All walks had to last for 90 minutes and each of them was given smartphones for them to snap some pictures while they hiked. These pictures were then used to verify if they really went for the walk.
After the walks, the participants came back to the research lab and were assessed for the second time by filling in another questionnaire and having a brain scan done on them. The results indicated that those who took a nature walk showed signs of reduction in self-reported rumination and the rate of blood flow to the brain’s subgenual prefrontal cortex had lowered. But for the urban walkers, no changes were detected in them.
The researchers added that their next step is to measure how nature can affect one’s psychology and this will help to determine what aspects of the natural environment that can reduce rumination. This will also involve finding out how long it would take to have the desirable effects when one bonds with nature and if certain forms of environmental landscape are involved. It is hoped that this research will assist urban planners on where to add more natural environment within the cities to assist city dwellers in dealing with anxiety disorders and depression.