In the age when everything natural quickly becomes trendy, the news that living close to a forest is beneficial to your brain comes as no news – we have known it for a long time. But now anecdotal evidence is backed by its scientific counterpart. German scientists found that living in a place where a lot of trees can be found in the vicinity benefits the amygdala, which means these people are theoretically better at coping with stress.
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Having a forest nearby is a preferable option when considering which dwelling to choose: more trees means more fresh air, more opportunities to go in for sports (jogging, cycling, skiing and many others), more views to enjoy, and much more. However, one of the greatest advantages it may bring is soothing your mind.
A long-awaited proof
A team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute found that living in an area adjacent to a forest has a beneficial effect on the amygdala, a brain region responsible for managing anxiety and similar experiences.
The environment definitely can shape our brain structure and thus affect the way we feel. Living in a confined space with a lot of neighbors increases the risk of depression, and so do higher pollution levels, litter overrunning streets, and other features characteristic of cities. It is in the countryside that a person can feel better, but now that more people are moving to megalopolises, it seems like the problem will only be aggravated.
The researchers provided evidence that supports the thesis above: the environment plays a role in how the brain works, and forests nearby can compensate for the stress you have to cope with.
The team asked 341 seniors at the age of 61 to 82 to undergo MRI screening to see what structural abnormalities are present in their amygdala, and the volunteers also took a series of cognitive and memory tests. The results suggest that those who live in an area with a forest in the vicinity are more likely to have a healthier amygdala, which is theoretically indicative of a better ability to manage stress. The association was not observed when the data was compared among the groups who live by the water, have some urban green nearby, or inhabit the area with a wasteland close to it. The findings suggest that forests are preferable to parks and even rivers in terms of their beneficial effect on the brain.
It remains unknown what kind of association it is: is it that people with better brain health are more likely to settle in a place with a forest, or is it forests that can affect the brain? Researchers supported the latter version, as it is backed by the evidence they had previously collected.
A better option
Only the elderly were enrolled in the study, but the findings can be translated into all age groups, because the benefits green areas bring are undoubtedly great. It is no wonder that spending time in a forest is the essence of a therapy called forest bathing. No herbal shampoos used – it’s just you walking past various trees and soaking up the atmosphere. The quiet ambience helps relieve stress and gives you an opportunity to maintain a decent level of physical activity. But it’s not just walking that is implied: the idea is to feel the forest with all your senses: touch leaves, smell the raindrops trees harbor, see the green kingdom in all its beauty, and engage in healthy activities which can help you reconnect with nature. Be responsible, though, and leave no litter behind.
If you do not have a forest nearby and there is no opportunity to move to a less populated area, try to spend free time in the countryside where the air is fresher and the nature around you is literally a sight for sore eyes.
Why Forest Therapy Can Be Good for Your Body and Mind – health.clevelandclinic.org