Go play outside. Take a walk. Get some fresh air. We’re all often told to take a break outdoors, a nod to the restorative power of nature. But is nature truly restorative?
Post-doctoral researcher Amy Donnell studies how the brain reacts to nature, as well as the cognitive benefits of being outside. In this America Outdoors video, host Baratunde Thurston visits Donnell at the University of Utah to participate in her research.
Step 1: Donnell fits Thurston with an EEG cap. An electroencephalogram (EEG) test measures electrical activity in the brain with electrodes.
Step 2: She records his brainwaves as he concentrates on repetitive calculations, “a mission you can only call mind-numbing,” he narrates.
“Amy’s making part of my brain work extra hard. The part that has to pay attention to get through a challenging task, just like your brain has to do if you’re driving in heavy traffic or dealing with too much screen time. You know, modern life.”
Step 3: He takes a walk in the park near the lab wearing the “sci-fi swimming cap.” He wanders the fields and among trees, and a small babbling brook helps him relax, too.
Step 4: Donnell measures Thurston’s brainwaves again; she’ll compare this with the pre-nature recordings.
What do you think Donnell and her colleagues have learned? Does a walk in the garden rejuvenate an exhausted brain? And is there a difference between walking in nature vs. walking in an urban setting?
• Hoh Rainforest, Washington State’s temperate rainforest
• Noticing the soundscapes of Yosemite National Park
• Japan’s 72 Micro-Seasons of Impermanence
• The Importance of Staring Out Of The Window
• The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, animated