If you are regularly in the fresh air, you are doing something good for both your brain and your vitality, a new study has shown. The study was led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Hamburg-Eppendorf Medical Center (UKE).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, walks have become a popular and regular pastime and activity. This neuroscientific study suggests that this habit has a good effect not only on our general well-being but also on the structure of the brain. It has shown that the human brain benefits from even a short stay outdoors and in the fresh air.
Until now, it was assumed that being outdoors affects us only during longer periods of time, but this study shows that even a shorter stay in nature has positive effects.
In addition, data were taken on fluid intake, caffeinated beverage consumption, amount of time spent outdoors and physical activity, so that the authors of the study could analyze whether these factors changed the connection between time spent outdoors and the brain. In order to be able to include seasonal differences, the duration of sunlight in the researched period was also taken into account.
Brain scans show that time spent outdoors was positively associated with gray matter in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the upper (dorsal) and lateral part of the frontal lobe in the cerebral cortex. This part of the cortex is involved in the planning and regulation of actions, as well as in what is called cognitive control.
In addition, many psychiatric disorders are known to be associated with a reduction in gray matter in the prefrontal area of the brain.
Regardless of everything else, being in nature contributes to brain health
The researchers performed statistical calculations to examine the effect of sunlight duration, number of hours of leisure time, physical activity and fluid intake on the results. Calculations revealed that time spent outdoors had a positive effect on the brain regardless of other factors.
“Our results show that our brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors. This most likely affects concentration, working memory and the psyche as a whole. Subjects are asked to solve cognitively challenging tasks, while they wear sensors that measure the amount of light they are exposed to during the day, among other environmental factors,” points out Simone Kuhn, lead author of the study.
The results support the previously assumed positive effects of walking on health and extend them with specific positive effects on the brain. Since most psychiatric disorders are associated with deficits in the prefrontal cortex, this is of particular importance to the field of psychiatry.
“The conclusions of our study provide neuroscientific support for the treatment of mental disorders. “Doctors should regularly prescribe time in the fresh air for people with mental illnesses,” says Anna Mascherek, co-author of the study.
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