Nature Can Ease Brain Fatigue and Improve Concentration Research Shows
If you’re feeling cranky and forgetful, and just about everything seems to be distracting you from the task at hand, it may be time to step away from the books and computer screens and head outside.
A new study from the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh shows that the best cure for brain fatigue may be as simple as a walk in the park.
The researchers found that going for a brief walk in a natural environment, or even just viewing green spaces is likely to ease brain fatigue, restore drifting attention and sharpen thinking.
Previous research supports the idea that natural environments can have a positive effect on mood and cognitive function.
For example, one study found that children with attention deficits performed better on cognitive tests after spending time in nature, while other research indicates that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
However, this was the first study to look at the brain activity of people while they were actually moving in outdoor spaces.
The researchers used mobile electroencephalogram (EEG) technology to study participants’ brain wave patterns during a 25-minute walk through three different areas of Edinburgh.
Each volunteer was fitted with a portable EEG that was concealed under a cap and connected to a laptop they carried in a backpack. The EEG recorder provided the researchers with continuous recordings from 5 channel outputs: short term excitement, frustration, engagement, arousal and meditation level.
Participants were asked to walk first through a shopping street with light traffic, then along a path through half a mile of green space, and lastly, through a heavily trafficked commercial area.
The researchers discovered that when participants moved into the parkland, they showed lower levels of frustration, engagement and arousal, and higher levels of meditation.
The study’s co-author, Jenny Roe, explains that this is due to the fact that although natural environments do engage the brain, the attention they demand is effortless.
“It’s called involuntary attention in psychology,” Dr. Roe told The New York Times. “It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection.”
“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,” she said.
Upon entering the busy commercial area, after having spent some time in the natural environment, the participants’ brains showed higher levels of engagement; an indication that taking even a short break to enjoy nature can leave you feeling sharper, more attentive and ready to reengage in the tasks that lie ahead of you.