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Natural High

Got the blues? Take a walk in the woods.

A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences strengthens growing evidence that spending time in nature positively affects mood. In particular, taking a 90-minute walk in a natural setting reduced rumination — repetitive thoughts focused on negative aspects of the self — and the flow of blood to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that plays a key role in mood regulation.

Researchers asked 38 volunteers with no prior history of mental illness to take a walk in a park or along a busy street. Participants underwent brain scans and completed questionnaires before and after.

Those who took the nature walk reported reduced rumination and showed decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex. No substantive changes were observed in the urban walkers.

Lead author Gregory Bratman, a Stanford University graduate student, says “the finding is exciting because it demonstrates the impact of nature experience on an aspect of emotion regulation — something that may help explain how nature makes us feel better.”

So the next time your mind is stuck in replay mode, tell your thoughts to take a hike by heading outdoors.

Photography by: Kwaku Alston

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