The Nature-Mood Connection

The days are getting shorter, and the nights colder! We’re almost at that time of year when, unless you’re a skier, getting outside in nature can seem like a lot of work compared to putting on comfy clothes and curling up with Netflix.

We’ve written a lot about getting outside in the winter. The fresh air and exercise help your immune system, increase energy, and help the seasonal blues. Now, we’re back again to take another pre-winter run at convincing you that getting outside is critical for your health.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has added more support to the idea of getting outside as a way of managing mood, but this time with a twist. In this case, the study went beyond just “outside”. It looked at two different groups of people – those who went for a 90-minute walk in nature, and those who went for a 90-minute walk in an urban environment.

More Room, Less Rumination

Researchers have known for years that there’s a connection between urban life and mental illness (urban dwellers suffer more), but the causation and mechanism have been tough to figure out definitively. Is it something about city life that makes it worse? Or does country living make it better? Both?

In this case, the researchers wanted to look specifically at what’s called rumination–basically thinking too much about things that upset you. Rumination is important because it’s associated with a host of mental and physical complaints, including depression.

The result? Based on brain images and self-reporting, the team determined that those who went out for a walk in nature showed a decrease in rumination.

And those who walked in an urban environment? No change.

The takeaway here is that the change wasn’t about the exercise in general, it was about being in nature. Both groups walked the same distance, just in different environments.

Half the world now lives in an urban environment, which leaves urban planners with some food for thought. In the meantime, those of us in the Collingwood area should take advantage of our good fortune and get outside this winter!

And as for the snow and cold? It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Do your mood a favour: get a good coat, a warm hat, and great mitts. Invest in a good pair of warm, dry boots. Your brain will thank you!