Why is it that whenever we are feeling down or are having a bad day, we are often told to go for a walk to get some fresh air? From taking a stroll through your local park to taking in the scenery on a hike in the mountains, being outside in nature can be restorative and grounding.
How and where we spend our time plays a huge role in our overall health and wellbeing, including our mental and cognitive health. An emerging body of research suggests that being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, can reduce stress, fear, and anger, increase pleasant feelings, and even sharpen some of our cognitive abilities.
Below, we take a closer look at nature’s effect on the brain, including potential physiological and cognitive benefits of exposure to nature, the use of nature for therapy-based interventions, and the best way to stay in touch with your brain health.
There are so many factors that impact our mental and cognitive health that we don’t often think about. Researchers and healthcare professionals alike are increasingly recognizing the immense impact social and environmental factors have on our health. Experts estimate that only 10% of longevity can be attributed to healthcare services and only 30% to genetics, while 60% can be attributed to individual behaviors and social and environmental factors.
With this new understanding, researchers have begun investigating how specific interactions and behaviors, such as spending time in nature, affect brain health. Emerging research suggests that experiencing or viewing nature may provide potential benefits such as:
Here is a closer look at some of the research surrounding nature’s effect on the brain:
While more research is needed to truly understand nature’s effect on the brain and the mechanisms at work, increasing scientific evidence suggests that viewing elements of nature is associated with physiological relaxation.
In recent years, nature therapy, or ecotherapy, has been proposed as a novel form of therapy for stress recovery and health promotion. Nature therapy is defined as “a set of practices aimed at achieving ‘preventive medical effects’ through exposure to natural stimuli that render a state of physiological relaxation and boost the weakened immune function to prevent disease.”
When paired with other elements of healthy living, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, exposure to nature may be utilized to prevent or mitigate risk factors for conditions such as dementia and mood disorders. Nature therapy is also being investigated as a means to treat or alleviate behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD).
Brain health is essential to everything we do daily and plays an important role in our ability to live long, healthy, and happy lives. Understanding how our actions and lifestyles impact our brains allows us to take charge of our overall wellness by incorporating elements of healthy living and regularly monitoring our brain health.
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