There is a convenience that comes from living in the city, for being close to the action, but there is also a risk to that convenience and action, a risk to your mental health.
Those who live in the city are more likely to develop a mental health disorder than those who live closer to nature. It's believed that this proximity to nature dramatically benefits one's overall mental and brain health. The amygdala, a part of the central region of the brain where stress is processed, is less active in those who reside in rural areas as opposed to those who make their home in the city. But is it nature that leads to these effects or the difference between living in urban or rural regions? The researchers wanted to know.
To achieve this, researchers looked at brain activity in regions known for stress processing of 63 volunteers. They examined their brain activity before and after a one-hour walk on a busy street with traffic in Berlin or a stroll through Grunewald Forest using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They found a decrease in amygdala activity following a walk in nature, suggesting that being in nature positively affected those regions of the brain associated with stress.
The findings back up previous beliefs about the positive impact nature has on the health of our brains, and this study is the first to support the causal link between brain health and nature. As for the suspicion that urban dwelling contributes to a mental health disorder, the researchers saw no increase in brain activity of the volunteers who did the urban walk, thereby going against the commonly held belief that living in the city leads to additional stress.
The study showed that these positive effects on the stress processing regions of the brain could be experienced in as briefly as one hour, suggesting that exposure to nature could act as a preventative measure for mental health problems by decreasing activity in the amygdala and potentially reducing the negative impact that city life may have on the brain contributing to the researchers understanding of how one's physical environment affects their overall mental health and brain.
Unsurprisingly, those who live closer to nature displayed a healthier amygdala and likely ability to cope better with stress. With this in mind, the researchers plan to further investigate nature's positive impact on mental health in different age groups and populations, specifically environmental stress on mothers and their babies.
If you are a city dweller experiencing some stress, consider an escape to nature. It doesn't take much to feel the benefits of the limitless beauty of nature or to understand what a breath of fresh air away from the chaos can do for your mind.