“…Until now, it has not been possible to separate the chicken and egg issue, namely whether nature actually exerts effects on the brain, or whether certain people choose rural or urban areas,” said Sonya Sudimak, lead author of the new study. .
Researchers designed a unique experiment to understand whether spending time in nature reduces our response to stress. About 60 volunteers were recruited for the study. Upon arrival at the lab, each subject underwent an MRI scan that monitored tonsil activity during various tests that measured responses to stress.
After baseline data were obtained during the scan, each subject was randomly assigned to a 60-minute walk in the city or a 60-minute walk in the forest. The city route ran along a busy street in Berlin, while the nature route ran through a nearby park. After completing the one-hour walk, the participants returned to the lab and repeated the same MRI tests.
In the group of participants walking in nature, the results of all stress tests showed decreased activity in the tonsils. The activity of the tonsils did not change in those walking along the city route. This means that urban environments do not necessarily increase a person’s stress response, but time spent in nature can reduce this neural activity.