Ah ha! That’s why I almost instinctively stroll down tree-lined streets and cut through parks when I take long walks in the city. New research has confirmed why!
Transporting your brain to a more ‘Zen’ state of mind could be as easy as taking a walk in the park, according to a recent study carried out by scientists at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. And the implications for mental health and urban planning have the airwaves buzzing!
The Green ‘Chill’ Effect
According to the research abstract, study participants took part in a 25 minute walk through three different areas of Edinburgh wearing a low-cost mobile EEG recorder. They walked through an urban shopping street, a path through green space and a street in a busy commercial district. During their walks, the EEG recorder provided continuous readings ranging from short term excitement, frustration, engagement, long-term excitement (or arousal) to meditation.
Study results showed “evidence of lower frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher meditation when moving into the green space zone; and higher engagement when moving out of it.”
According to the Huffington Post, Professor Jenny Roe from Heriot Watt explained: “Natural environments still engage our brains but the attention they demand is effortless…”
“Going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”
The successful pilot study taps into the long-held belief that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Hopefully these encouraging study results will have a positive impact on the promotion of urban green spaces as a healthy, mood-enhancing environment for running, biking, walking, hiking, meditating and other forms of physical or reflective activity.
Vitamin G = Green
This is not the first study on this subject. Several other studies have been conducted about to determine how green elements in the landscape around us affect health and well-being including a 2006 Dutch Study which explored “Vitamin G and the effects of green space on health, well-being, and social safety”. In this particular study, Vitamin G stands for the green space around us. Prompted by the fact that “urban green space is under strong pressure….due to increasing urbanization, combined with a spatial planning policy of densification, more people face the prospect of living in less green residential environments.” Their research examines the direction and strength of the relationship between the amount of green space in people’s living environment and their health, well-being and perceived safety, how can this relationship be explained and how the results can be made useful for policy intervention.
Green Space is Good For Us
In short, being around green space is good for our mental health. But we knew this all the time. Didn’t we? We probably didn’t really need another formal research study to tell us that, but if scientific research provides the substantive ammunition needed for the development and maintenance of more green spaces in urban environments, I am all for it.
Now let’s lace up those sneakers, head for the trees and chill!
Related research links:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965 (British study)
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/6/149 (Dutch study)
What do you think about these latest research results? Where is your favorite “green” walking area? Share your comments below.