Depressed, Forgetful? Take a Walk in the Park
Here is a win-win situation. A study by Marc Berman, a post-doctoral fellow at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, suggests that 30 minutes of walking in nature can boost memory and reduce depression.
Dr. Berman's study is part of what is known as Attention Restoration Theory (ART). ART is part of a cognitive research field that suggests the idea that people concentrate better after spending time in nature. In fact, they suggest that looking at pictures of nature help a great deal.
ART says that living in an urban environment is distracting because of all of the noise and other stimuli that takes a toll on the memory system and mood. In other words, in nature settings the brain can relax, providing a chance to restore cognitive or thinking capacities.
Dr. Berman's study compared the impact of a walk on two groups. One group comprised people with depression and the other group without depression. The results demonstrated that both groups showed a boost in mood regardless of being depressed or not.
These results should not be surprising. We know the benefits of meditation. A thirty minute walk in nature is taking to a meditation in that attention is diverted away from external stimulation. In others words, walking in a natural environment is a meditative experience.
Do you remember Henry David Thoreaux, who spent two years in Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, during the mid nineteenth century? He wrote about what it was like for him to live in nature while being away from the forces of modern civilization. Thoreau favored a pastoral kind of life where people could live in an environment of the country with rolling hills.
Today, we may not be able to live the kind of life Thoreaux advocated, unless we put on our back packs and go on long hikes in the countryside, but we can go to the park, nature preserves and botanical gardens, long enough to derive it's medicinal benefits. Short of the ability to do that, we can also look at pictures of nature. To enhance the experience, there are lots of recordings of naturally falling water, ocean waves hitting the shore and brooks and creaks babbling along.
We need to take a small part of the day away from the pressures of modern life. What better way than a walk in the park?
How do you get away from it all, or do you?
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD