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The following is excerpted from Science proves what you suspected: hiking's good for your mental health
Do not underestimate the power of a walk in the woods: A new study suggests that even a 90- minute stroll in a natural environment can lead to measurable changes in the brain, and may help combat depression.
Previous research has shown that just a 50-minute walk in nature can improve your mood, decrease your anxiety and even improve your memory. But for the new study, published this week in PNAS, the research team wanted to see if they could understand what the mechanisms for these positive effects might be.
...To help them figure it out, they decided to focus specifically on what psychologists call "rumination," which has been shown to predict depressive episodes.
...Examples of rumination include spending a lot of time thinking back over embarrassing or disappointing moments, or rehashing recent things you've said or done.
To see how a walk in nature affects ruminative thought, the researchers randomly assigned 38 volunteers with no history of mental illness to take a 90-minute walk in an urban green space near Palo Alto or a loud, busy street with three to four lanes of traffic in each direction.
...The researchers found that those who went on the nature walk showed reductions in both self-reported rumination and in the profusion of blood flow to the subgenual prefontal cortex. They observed no significant changes in the urban walkers.