Does the wilderness make you smarter? The short answer is yes. A writer for Backpacker magazine participated in a study that was shared in their May 2012 issue. To sum it up, Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan not only reports that studies already link wilderness to stress reduction and happiness, but that now there are findings that link “short-term nature exposure” to improvements in mental abilities (p. 76). Why does this happen? Well it seems that our brains are tired from multi-tasking and constant focusing “in the face of distraction,” so the freedom to be ‘in the moment’ gives our brains a break (p. 78). Most notably:
- 15-30 minute nature walks –especially 3 days a week – help people to “feel more alive” (University of Rochester 2010)
- A 50 minute walk through an arboretum increased cognition by 20% (University of Michigan 2008)
- And 3-4 days of full immersion in the wilderness seems to increase our creative thought 50% (University of Utah 2012)
The good news if you want to make going outside a part of a sustainable routine, is that neuroscientists recommend a few long weekends in nature near your home over one long backpacking trip. When you can’t get outside you can also increase your mental abilities by:
- Viewing photos
- Imagining nature
- Aerobic activity
In my book, Rooted in Water, one of the things I look at is how the technological story – pictures, in this case – is a new way for us to connect with nature because photographs can take us to places we may never get to, and they expand our connection with the whole of the planet.
What I think is as important as any study is that Kwak-Hefferan feels the difference in being outside even without all the facts and figures, and I bet that you do too. Anyone I start to talk to about the benefits of even so much as having a plant nearby starts to realize how they already do things, like look out their window, as a way to clear their head.
Backpacker Magazine: Hiking Makes You Smarter
Rooted in Water: The Importance of Story to Ecopsychology and the Beginning of a Practice in Narrative Ecopsychology
This post was originally published on NarrativeEcopsych.Wordpress.com