A walk in the park or wood fixes a fuzzy brain, study shows

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

woods.jpgIt is amazing how we seem to need a study to confirm what we have already known for centuries, namely that a walk in Nature refreshes the brain and sorts things out. Jobs for the boys, yet again, methinks, as per usual.

Urban living gives us brain fatigue as constantly being alert and aware tires our brain. And a walk in the park can go a long way to clear up the resulting fuzziness.

Pedestrians get drained because they have to remain vigilant of all the madness that is around them, being forced to use directed mental attention, which is a limited resource, to get from one city block to the next without being run over by something on two legs or on two or four wheels.

The environs of a park, on the other hand, unless there's a stroller festival afoot, can put you into a state of soft fascination and the aaaaah-inducing feeling of taking in the space around you. By being in a green space, that ever-so-scarce resource of directed attention is able to renew itself.

Many people are very unaware of their surroundings, and like zombies when walking (or even cycling) in the city and elsewhere, having headphones stuffed into their ears and their MP3 players blaring out “music”. And they, alas, also to do that when going for a walk in park or woods.

A new study from Scotland helps to prove that a walk in the park is good for us. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh used portable EEGs to monitor the brain activity of 12 healthy young adults. Different participants walked through different areas of Edinburgh – one was an historic shopping district, one was a park-like setting, and one was a busy commercial district.

Those that walked in park-like settings were, the study found, the least stressed and frustrated.

Not that those who created the parks in Britain under the Public Health Act of the mid 19th century did not already know this and those of us who do regularly spend time in parks and woodlands do too. One can but wonder, therefore, why a study was needed and I do not even want to know how much this has cost, once again.

Parks in Britain were set up – under public health legislation – to provide a place where people could be quiet in natural surroundings, though created by man (then again most woods are), and recharge their batteries.

We relax in quiet, natural settings much more than we do (or ever could) in urban settings, the study found and it obviously found what we all knew already.

Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment, who oversaw the study, said that while natural settings still engage our brain, the engagement is effortless. It is called “involuntary attention” in psychology and it holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection.

Amazing what they can find out in such studies; mostly, it would seem things that we knew already, or things that are totally useless, such as to whether shrimps like music and which kind. One day they may actually find something that we don't, as yet, know. But I must say that I am not going to hold my breath.

It seems to me that many of those studies, used to confirm what we already know, or to find out things that are of no inportance, are a total waste of money that could, I am sure, be used much more effectively on something more useful.

Thanks for confirming what was known already for at least a century or two – if not more – but it would be nice if the energy and money would actually be channeled to something that will improve the world.

© 2013