Stuck on an idea? Walk through the park
By Drake Baer, Fast Company, Dec. 29, 2013
New research shows that if you want to purge your mental muck, you should make like a tree and leaf.
Puns aside, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine evidences that green spaces lessen “brain fatigue”—that familiar (urban?) feeling of being distracted, forgetful, and flighty, as Gretchen Reynolds notes for the New York Times.
You may be familiar with the clanging clamor of urban life—and psychology helps us understand why it’s so sapping. Pedestrians get drained because they have to remain vigilant of all the madness that’s around them, being forced to use directed mental attention—a limited resource—to get from one block to another without being run over by something with two legs or four wheels. In contrast, the environs of a park, unless there’s a stroller festival afoot, can put you into a state of soft fascination, the aaaaah-inducing feeling of taking in the space around you. By being in a green space, that ever-so-scarce resource of directed attention is able to renew itself.
Some countries might be ahead of Scotland in the greenery game. Outside Magazine had an amazing feature in December about how doctors in Japan are beginning to prescribe walks in the woods to help the mental health of overloaded urbanites. There’s even a totally adorable word for it, shinrin-yoku, which translates as “forest bathing.”
But you need not be in Edinburgh or Tokyo to get your shinrin-yoku on. The key is to get into the woods, says Jenny Roe, the professor who oversaw the Scottish study. Reynolds has the quote:
…Right about now, you should consider “taking a break from work,” Dr. Roe said, and “going for a walk in a green space or just sitting, or even viewing green spaces from your office window.” This is not unproductive lollygagging, Dr. Roe helpfully assured us. “It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery.”
So do your brain a favor and have a midday stroll. Or, maybe better than that, do your colleagues a favor— make your next meeting a walk in the woods.