Better your brain -- why this book says we should get outside


First Aired on Think About It (07/29/2013)

Never ending phone calls, rush hour traffic, irate bosses, packed work schedules.... it's enough to make even the most urban city slicker want to get away from it all. Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor, thinks this might be better idea for your brain than you'd think. He's the co-author of Your Brain on Nature which looks at how natural surroundings affect the human body, especially in times of stress. Logan and several psychology experts discussed the importance of being in nature on a recent radio episode of Think About It. 

Research shows that our brains have powerful responses to the sights, sounds and smells of nature. They trigger physiological changes in our body that reduce stress such as decreasing our heart rate, improving cognition, lowering stress hormones and boosting our immune system. In other words, slowing down and stepping outside does us a whole lot of good. 

And that's just the start. Scientists are figuring out that it's not just a matter of being in nature that makes us feel better, but also how we go about doing it that makes a significant difference on our stress levels. According to Logan, it's time to unplug those earphones when going for a hike. "Even when individuals enter green space, they are often not really 'there' in the mindful sense -- texting, incoming messages, and eyes fixated upon smartphones take the brain elsewhere. In many ways we are drowning in a sea of 'infotoxicity' and entertainment media."

This advice is taken seriously in places like Japan, where there is a practice known as shinrin-yoku, literally translated as "forest air bathing," meaning taking in the forest environment with all our senses. This is quite contrary to living in the city, where we're often flooded with overstimulation. "Shinrin-yoku is a time for contemplation and observation," said Logan. "It's important to also add what's not happening in a forest, and that's the distraction of the urban built environment."

He added that the human brain needs space from technology while still being gently stimulated by nature. "Compared to the 1980s, we're spending 60 percent more time on info consumption outside of work and school... so not only are we spending less time in nature, but we're not realizing it either." 

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