photo by asher isbrucker (creative commons)
Noted in both the Washington Post and the New York Times this morning, research just out (Monday) suggests that walking in nature helps reduce rumination (brooding, obsessing over unsolvable problems). The mechanism is unclear.
Why is that important? Because solid research (see Lyuborminsky) has indicated that rumination is both a symptom and cause of depression. Non-depressed folk that ruminate are much more likely to later become depressed. Depressed folk that ruminate are much more likely to become more depressed.
The researcher, Gregory Bratman at Stanford, measured bloodflow to a part of the brain associated with rumination, the subgenual prefrontal cortex. (In research on meditation, the prefrontal cortex has also been implicated in self-referential thought, and that self-referential thought is associated with unhappiness.) Post-walk, participants showed small but significant reduction of bloodflow to that part of the brain.
The Post also noted that short micro-breaks of looking at nature have “rejuvenating effects” on the brain. And the Post also noted that research that relies on brain scans to draw conclusions remains controversial. It’s certainly true that studies that measure something in the brain seem to be hailed as irrefutable by the press (see Blobology).
Still, if you’re depressed, take a walk! Or just go outside and take in some trees. It really does make a difference.