Nature’s cure for anxiety

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People tormented by a neverending flow of negative thoughts can greatly benefit from an alternative to expensive psychotherapy or medications: a walk in the woods. Psychologists at Stanford University found that walking outdoors in natural settings can ward off the human tendency to harp on that breakup, layoff, or family problem.

The study involved 38 city participants, some of which strolled for 90 minutes through an unspoiled landscape surrounded by greenery; the others walked along a busy downtown street. Before and after their walks, the participants underwent a brain scan and questioning about how often they engaged in rumination—inward, self-referential thinking, which is tied to depression and anxiety.

The nature walkers revealed far less, and their brain scans revealed reduced activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the region that regulates negative emotions. “This provides robust results for us that nature experience, even of a short duration, can decrease this pattern of thinking that is associated with the onset, in some cases, of mental illnesses,” says the study’s lead author, Gregory Bratman.

One downfall: By 2050, about 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to reside in cities.