Mind wandering after a long day at work? Forgetting where your keys are when you finally decide to leave the house on the weekend?
While many things could be going on, one often-overlooked possibility is that you might simply be nature-deprived. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that, especially in the summertime: Head for the trees.
Time In Nature Can Boost Short-Term Memory
In one study, University of Michigan students were given a brief memory test, then divided into two groups.
One group took a walk around an arboretum, and the other half took a walk down a city street. When the participants returned and did the test again, those who had walked among trees did almost 20% per cent better than the first time. The ones who had taken in city sights instead did not consistently improve.
Another similar study on depressed individuals also found that walks in nature boosted working memory much more than walks in urban environments.
Natural Environments Restore Mental Energy
You know that feeling where your brain seems to be sputtering to a halt? Researchers call that “mental fatigue.”
One thing that can help get your mind back into gear is exposing it to restorative environments, which, research has found, generally means the great outdoors. One study found that people’s mental energy bounced back even when they just looked at pictures of nature. (Pictures of city scenes had no such effect.)
Studies have also found that natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, which is one of the surest ways to experience a mental boost.
A Walk Outside Can Help You Focus
We know the natural environment is “restorative,” and one thing that a walk outside can restore is your waning attention. In one early study, researchers worked to deplete participants’ ability to focus. Then some took a walk in nature, some took a walk through the city, and the rest just relaxed. When they returned, the nature group scored the best on a proofreading task. Other studies have found similar results — even seeing a natural scene through a window can help.
The attentional effect of nature is so strong it might help kids with ADHD, who have been found to concentrate better after just 20 minutes in a park. “‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool … for managing ADHD symptoms,” researchers wrote.
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