It’s no secret that nature is good for us. But is it really capable of changing the brain? A new study by the Natural Capital Project says yes. It found that people who walked for 90 minutes in nature (versus walking for 90 minutes in an urban setting) showed decreased activity in a brain region that’s associated with depression. Other studies provide evidence of the positive impacts of nature on mood, cognitive function, memory and anxiety.
Nature seems to act as a ‘natural buffer’ against mental health problems. This is why I live in a natural habitat in Auckland on the edge of the world, in the Lake District in England, in the desert in Arizona, and one block from the mighty Hudson River in New York.
These findings provide an extra oomph for urban planners and efforts to maintain natural oases in urban environments, especially since the majority of the world’s population lives in urban settings.
Take a look at Jeffrey Milstein’s fantastic birds-eye-view photographs of NYC and you’ll see that in some areas, people have to wander a few blocks to connect with greenery. But that isn’t to say that we aren’t well-served by urban bursts of nature in NYC. Consider the vast 800 acres of Central Park, the luscious grass, plants and trees growing along the High Line, and further measures being taken to increase NYC’s ‘urban forest’, such as the Million Trees NYC program with an ambitious goal to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs.
If you can’t bring people to nature, bring nature to the people. If you’re a city dweller who wants to reap the benefits (and you should), find your own urban oases and get amongst it.