What 1 Hour in Nature Does to The Human Brain

by Samantha Whidden

Although everyday life is stressful, unpredictable, and obviously chaotic, there’s one place where the human brain can feel at peace – in nature. 

According to Science Alert, visiting nature, even as briefly as one house, is associated with multiple mental and physical health benefits for humans and their brains. This includes lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety/depression, and mood improvement. Humans will also notably have better sleep and memory as well as faster healing. 

There are also specific benefits for the human brain if out in nature, even briefly. Researchers say the amygdala, a small structure in the center of the brain that is involved in stress processing and emotional learning, becomes less active during stress in rural residents versus city dwellers. However, it was noted that this doesn’t necessarily mean rural living causes this kind of effect. 

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Human Development conducted a study involving 63 healthy adult volunteers. Each volunteer was involved in various tests – including some that were designed to induce social stress. They were then randomly assigned to take a one-hour walk in either an urban setting or out in nature. 

During the assignment, researchers had volunteers take a specific route in either location. This was done without volunteers going off-course or using their mobile phones. After finishing their walks, the participants had another fMRI scan done, additional stress-inducing tasks, and another questionnaire. 

The Results Are In About the Impacts of Nature on the Human Brain 

After the tests were done, the fMRI scans showed reduced activity in the amygdala after volunteers took a walk in nature. This supports the idea that nature is able to trigger beneficial effects in the brain’s stress regions. 

Simone Kühn, head of the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, spoke about the results. “The results support the previously assumed positive relationship between nature and brain health, but this is the first study to prove the causal link.”

It was further revealed that those who took a walk in nature had more attention restoration. They also enjoyed the walk more than those who took urban walks. 

Meanwhile, the researchers noticed something interesting about those who took urban walks. Their amygdala activity didn’t decrease like those who took nature walks. But it also didn’t increase either. “This strongly argues in favor of the salutogenic effects of nature,” the research notes. “As opposed to urban exposure causing additional stress.” 

However, this doesn’t mean that urban exposure does not cause stress. But the research does give a positive sign for those who live in cities. It was further noted that the research does have some of the clearest evidence that stress-related brain activity may be reduced by simply taking a walk in nature.