Adults spend 80 to 90 percent of their time indoors, on average, but as animals, we are supposed to spend far more time in the great outdoors.
If you need more convincing to get outside, science can definitively declare that it’s important to awaken our natural selves by connecting with the great outdoors, not just because it makes us feel good, but because it’s actually beneficial for our brains.
A team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development studied six adults over six to eight months, tracking their daily behaviors while taking 40 to 50 MRI scans of each of their brains. Through this in-depth analysis, they found that outdoor activity positively impacts brain structure.
The researchers found that time spent outdoors is linked with more gray matter in parts of the prefrontal cortex that oversee cognitive control, regulation, and planning. Psychologist and neuroscientist at the institute and lead author of the study Simone Kühn says that their results “show that our brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors. This most likely also affects concentration, working memory, and the psyche as a whole.”
The researchers also recognize that plenty of the psychiatric disorders that people face today are associated with less grey matter in the areas mentioned above, so in the future, walks outside may be prescribed as part of mental health treatment. The weather doesn’t even necessarily have to be pleasant, as they found that the benefits remain even when controlling for variables like sunshine, exercise, and fluid intake.
So, the next time you find yourself stuck on a work problem or stressed about deadlines, instead of convincing yourself that you don’t have time to focus on anything other than the problem in front of you, put on your walking shoes and reap the mind-clearing, health-boosting, mood-improving benefits of a little dose of the outdoors.
Source Study: The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry—Spend time outdoors for your brain—an in-depth longitudinal MRI study