The amygdala is a brain region that responds to stress, and when we're stressed, it becomes more active. So reducing activity in the amygdala should help manage stress levels. A recent study from the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin, Germany, found that one way to reduce brain activity in this region is to take a walk in nature.
A walk in nature decreased activity in the brain region that responds to stress.
Methodology and Results
The participants were randomly assigned to either a one-hour nature walk or a one-hour urban walk. The natural environment was an urban forest in the city of Berlin; the urban environment was a busy street in the city centre. Prior to the walk and again after the walk, the participants' brains were scanned while they looked at fearful and neutral faces.
After the walk, amygdala activity decreased for those who had taken a nature walk, but not for those who had taken an urban walk. For them, the amygdala activity remained stable.
This study shows that a walk in nature can indeed reduce amygdala activity, whereas a walk in an urban environment does not. This was a randomized control trial (RCT) so the nature walk was causal, meaning that the nature walk was responsible for the decrease in amygdala activation.
Participants who went for a walk in nature also felt that their attention had been restored, but not so for those who went for an urban walk. "Moreover, participants who went for a nature walk enjoyed the walk more than those who went for a walk in the urban environment"
Nature is a proven way to manage stress
Other research has found that walks in nature reduce cortisol levels, diminish sympathetic nerve activity, and decrease both blood pressure and heart rate. Spending time in nature decreases rumination and reduces neural activity in the part of the brain associated with anxiety and depression (the subgenual prefrontal cortex). Nature can also boost our creativity and capacity to think clearly. It rests our top-down, direct-attention faculties — or the parts of our brain that are involved in effortful thinking, which are constantly triggered by the stimuli of urban environments.
"We’re hardwired to feel at home and at ease not in the city or in the suburbs, but in nature."
According to Harvard entomologist E.O. Wilson, "we have evolved to have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature ... since we, as a species, grew up in nature, we are biologically programmed to be drawn to it."
It doesn't have to be a walk, and it doesn't have to be in a forest; it could be just sitting in a park, looking at pictures of nature, watching good-quality nature videos, or even changing your screen saver to show flash images of nature.
Stulberg, B. (2017, April 10). The original natural remedy for burnout. The Cut. https://www.thecut.com/2017/04/the-original-natural-remedy-for-burnout-nature.html
Sudimac, S., Sale, V., & Kühn, S. (2022). How nature nurtures: Amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature. Molecular Psychiatry, 1–7. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-022-01720-6