Fight depression with nature’s mental boost
He’s already proved that adults who are not diagnosed with any illness receive a mental boost after an hour-long walk in a woodland park—improving their performance on memory and attention tests by 20 percent—compared to an hour-long stroll in a noisy urban environment, but Dr. Marc Berman has just released a new study on people with major depression.
“Our study showed that participants with clinical depression demonstrated improved memory performance after a walk in nature, compared to a walk in a busy urban environment,” says Dr. Berman, who adds that such walks are not a replacement for existing and well-validated treatments for clinical depression, such as psychotherapy and drug treatment.
The cognitive science field known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART) proposes that people concentrate better after spending time in nature or looking at scenes of nature. The reason, according to ART, is that people interacting with peaceful nature settings aren’t bombarded with external distractions that relentlessly tax their working memory and attention systems. In nature settings, the brain can relax and enter a state of contemplativeness that helps to restore or refresh those cognitive capacities.
In this latest study, Dr. Berman and his research team explored whether a nature walk would provide similar cognitive benefits, and also improve mood for people with clinical depression. Given that individuals with depression are characterized by high levels of rumination and negative thinking, logically the pattern might not hold for them. But study participants exhibited a 16 percent increase in attention and working memory after the nature walk relative to the urban walk. Interestingly, interacting with nature did not alleviate depressive mood to any noticeable degree over urban walks, as negative mood decreased and positive mood increased after both walks to a significant and equal extent.
The bottom line? Everyone can benefit from a mood-boosting walk, but your brain will benefit even more from a mood-boosting, cognitive-ability-boosting nature walk!