A recent study measured brain waves of healthy adults as they took a 25-minute walk through three different sections of Edinburgh, Scotland. Participants first traveled through an older, historic shopping district with light vehicle traffic, then down a path through a park-like setting, then through a busy, commercial district.
The researchers were attempting to identify whether a walk in the park could be an intervention for brain fatigue, a condition caused by the brain’s being overwhelmed by constant noise and input, resulting in distraction, forgetfulness, and flightiness.
When traveling through the urbanized, busy areas, brain wave patterns demonstrated higher arousal levels and more frustration. While in the park, the brain-wave readings became more meditative and quieter.
Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Build Environment, commented to the New York Times Well Blog about the different ways the brain was engaged, based on environment:
“Natural environments still engage” the brain, she said, but the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection,” and providing a palliative to the nonstop attentional demands of typical, city streets.
Several of the comments on the blog echo what you may be thinking: “Nice to see this study, but I feel like it is confirming that the sun rises in the east,” or “What I get from this study is less about what a walk in the park does to our brain waves than amazement that so many of us still need science to ‘prove’ the validity of our experience.”
It doesn’t seem like rocket science, I agree, but I appreciate that it highlights an effective and low-cost strategy for how to reset our brain’s capacity to take in the world around us and make decisions with clarity. Our lives can quite easily be over-engaged with many responsibilities and being accessible all the time.
Dr. Roe also connects the seemingly obvious conclusion of the study with challenges for our daily lives:
“Right about now, you should consider taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.” ‘
I’ll see you in ten minutes. I’m going for a walk.
Photo courtesy of Catherine Wilson, of one of her favorite mountain paths in western NC, and a favorite walking companion, Stella.