If you’ve ever had to work crazy hours (or simply work with dedication) or study for an exam, then you know exactly what “brain fatigue” feels like. It’s that distracted and forgetful feeling you get when you’ve overwhelmed or just beat. Fortunately, a recent study from Scotland has found that a quick walk in the park can reduce brain fatigue.
The New York Times reports:
The idea that visiting green spaces like parks or tree-filled plazas lessens stress and improves concentration is not new. Researchers have long theorized that green spaces are calming, requiring less of our so-called directed mental attention than busy, urban streets do. Instead, natural settings invoke “soft fascination,” a beguiling term for quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue.
But this theory, while agreeable, has been difficult to put to the test. Previous studies have found that people who live near trees and parks have lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their saliva than those who live primarily amid concrete, and that children with attention deficits tend to concentrate and perform better on cognitive tests after walking through parks or arboretums. More directly, scientists have brought volunteers into a lab, attached electrodes to their heads and shown them photographs of natural or urban scenes, and found that the brain wave readouts show that the volunteers are more calm and meditative when they view the natural scenes.
But it had not been possible to study the brains of people while they were actually outside, moving through the city and the parks. Or it wasn’t, until the recent development of a lightweight, portable version of the electroencephalogram, a technology that studies brain wave patterns.
Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh—who published their findings in The British Journal of Sports Medicine—found that green spaces reduce brain fatigue. They attached portable EEGs to 12 healthy young adults, which sent a signal to a laptop carried by each subject. Each volunteer then was asked to take a walk of about a mile and half of both light vehicle traffic space and heavy vehicle traffic space.
The New York Times writes: “When the volunteers made their way through the urbanized, busy areas, particularly the heavily trafficked commercial district at the end of their walk, their brain wave patterns consistently showed that they were more aroused and frustrated than when they walked through the parkland, where brain-wave readings became more meditative.”
Photo by Edgar Zuniga Jr.