Sunday Scaries

5 scientific reasons why being in nature is good for the brain

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While every day should be Earth Day in spirit, this Thursday was technically Earth Day.

Thursday also marked the announcement of President Joe Biden’s new greenhouse gas pollution target.

By 2030, the United States is attempting to achieve a 50 to 52 percent reduction from 2005 levels.

air pollution

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Since the 1700s, human activities have consistently driven up greenhouse gas emissions. All of this culminates in the climate of the Earth changing.

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There is scientific evidence that climate change takes a mental toll as well as a planetary one. That’s because our relation to the environment is one of mind and body. Nature influences our mental health, and study after study proves it.

Check out this reporting from Inverse on how the environment affects mental health.

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In a study of 300 children between the ages of 9 and 12, scientists observed a link between engaging in sustainable habits (like recycling and picking up litter) and feeling more connected to nature.

This connectedness was, in turn, linked to feeling happier

Why?

Study co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, director of IS Global’s urban planning, environment, and health initiative, told Inverse it likely goes back to evolution: “Our brains are still wired for when we were still living in the savanna and jungles with a lot of nature around us.”

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In a 2019 study, researchers evaluated 19,806 British adults and found an association between spending 120 to 179 minutes a week in nature and a significantly greater likelihood of reporting good health.

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While the “why” still needs to be settled, lead author Matthew White, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter, told Inverse he hoped the results would result in “support for funding the protection of safe, biodiverse, rich natural spaces that people can spend time in.”

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Research published in March found a relationship to listening to flowing water and birds chipping to specific, positive health effects.

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These included: Decreased pain, improved mood, lower stress, and enhanced cognitive performance.

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An evaluation of 3,585 people living across four cities in Europe revealed growing up with regular exposure to nature has ripple effects into adulthood.

“The childhood experience of green space can actually predict mental health in later life,” co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen told Inverse.

“The people that reported more exposure to nature actually have better mental health than those that don’t, even after we adjust for exposure at the time of the interview, when they are adults.”

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In 2015, scientists found an association between a 50-minute walk through nature and a) decreased anxiety and rumination and b) increased cognitive benefits — like being better at memory tasks. Study participants who went on an urban walk didn’t experience the same effects.

For more science stories, click here.

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