Nature Improves our Mental Health, Study Finds

  • 14 January 2016
  • Petra_1

Fifty percent of the world's population lives in urban areas. As a result, there is an increase in mental illnesess, especially anxiety, and depression. Perhaps we have all experienced the calming effects to our psychology of a simple walk in the nature. This is confirmed by a new study that examined how visiting nature affects our brain.

Depression, anxiety and mental illness are to some extend the consequences of city living. The modern way of living keeps us away from the green, natural spaces inside which humans grew and evolved for thousands of years. Various studies have found that when we visit a park or any natural environment, our stress hormones decrease and we feel better.

What are the neurological mechanisms that explain why we feel and perform better when we are outside in the nature? This is what this new study set out to decipher. Gregory Bratman of Stanford University, who has been studying the effects of urban living on mental health, recruited 38 healthy city dwellers. He asked them to go for a walk for 90 minutes either in a tranquil, green part of the Stanford campus or in a noisy highway in Palo Alto. Before and after the walk, Mr Bratman and his colleagues  gave the participants a questionnaire to see their levels of morbid rumination, a condition also known as brooding. Brooding is a precursor to depression, and it’s the mental state whereby a person constantly thinks of all the bad things that have happened in their life. It has been found that a person that dwells in this state of rumination has increased blood flow in a part of his brain known as subgenual prefrontal cortex. So, in addition to the questionnaires, Mr Bratman checked the participants’ subgenual prefrontal cortex activity.

The findings are that walking in a peaceful, parklike area soothes people’s minds, and makes them feel better. This can be confirmed by a drop in the blood flow in the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

Why is this finding important? Because it provides an immediate way for city dwellers to reduce stress and improve their mood.

What are your thoughts on this? How does a simple walk in the nature affect your mood?





For all who say this study is a no-brainer, I hope you are involved in park and land preservation issues, for I can assure you, it is NOT a no-brainer to the development industry that sees nature as just wasted space ripe for construction. Land use battles mean continually countering the language of business and profit with public and ecological benefit. The land you enjoy is the result of the exhaustive efforts of others, first for purchase or donation, then ongoing protection against development and/or "disharmonious uses." Seriously, if nature offers you comfort, please get involved. This study lends credence to what you may already know, but your voice is needed.

Bhava Ram

San Diego  

I'm always amazed at the importance placed upon studies that conclude the obvious and are held to be more significant than our inherent wisdom. Is there anyone among us who does not intuitively know that a stroll in nature feels better than walking along a busy highway?


Lexington, Kentucky  

Nature restores. Trees, fields, brooks, squirrels and birds flying across open skies ground us. They remind us that despite any problems we have or imagine we have, our natural state of bliss is with us throughout. We need only free our minds, focus on the present moment and rejoice that mother nature abides.

James Klosty

Millbrook. NY  

And what of those of us who live in the country? We are hardly immune from brooding. Perhaps a dose of dense traffic would help.

Simon Sez


Just being outside, in the fresh air ( or as close as you can get to fresh air), in the sun is already a huge plus over being indoors.

In addition, our body requires movement for many reasons. The lymphatic system, the third circulation, is moved by muscles; it has no other means to circulate the lymph. That is why people who are paralyzed must be moved, turned in bed, to avoid bedsores and support the general body processes.

Even looking through the window at a living, natural setting is beneficial.

In the end, we are nature. We are not separate except in our beliefs and thoughts.

Get outside as much as possible and, if at all possible, to as natural a setting as you can find. It will add years to your life and make you a lot happier than otherwise.


It would be nice if scientists paid more attention to the humanities. Rousseau pointed out the mind-nature connection in great and accurate detail 250+ years ago, followed by countless Romantic philosophers and writers. These studies are merely confirming the obvious. People immersed in nature realize their relationship to something bigger and more important/beautiful than their own egos. People glued to their computers don't.



When I was in grad school and miserable because I was I was stressed or suffering writers block I would leash up my dog, pack a sandwich, and water bottles for the two of us and go hike on a short trail in some nearby woods. The city was nearby, but out there you would see birds, deer, snakes, and other small animals. A pleasant ramble with my hound always helped set things straight-- and I am hardly the outdoorsy type.
Many great thinkers and writers routinely took walks to clear their heads. It just makes you feel better.


new jersey  

Seriously? Someone had to do an academic study to draw this conclusion.???Aristotle knew this :" In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous. " As did Thoreau and many more great thinkers.

Rose Rosen


I have often heard of severe mental health issues in rural areas -- alcoholism, depression, bipolar disorder -- and lack of medical care -- due to isolation, poverty. I think less attention gets paid to rural areas. Yes walking through grassy knolls is pleasant and restful but I don't think rural life is necessarily paradise.


Columbus, OH 

Not a criticism--not at all--but I find it interesting that we need science--data, brain scan, etc.--to "prove" something we already know and experience. How long should I walk in a park to gain the "optimal" benefit? As long as it takes to forget about numbers, time, and what science tells me.

Wordsworth from Wadsworth

Mesa, Arizona  

Walking in nature is one of my favorite things. Like a lot of people, I kind of intuited the findings in this article.

What I don't understand here out west is the need for ATV quad riders to vitiate nature with their vehicles. It's like they want to escape industrial society by taking a part of the factory with them.



We created our own "green space" in our city by replacing most of our lawn with native plants and wild flowers. We installed a small stone walking path and a secluded seating area. It's right outside our front door and it's a great way to spend some time decompressing, talking and enjoying the bees, butterflies and birds that now frequent our yard.


Somewhere in long past reading, I came across some studies -- not including brain scans - which suggested that even having a view of a natural landscape promoted better health. "Viewscapes" impact our health even when we aren't able to stroll thought them.



Anne Frank
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

yellow rose


Okay, I can't resist. This is a "no brainer"! :-)



The Japanese refer to this as "forest bathing" and have been using it for centuries as a form of therapy.

Sometimes I feel these researchers, who feel the need to prove the obvious, can't see the forest for the trees. Pun intended.



I have bipolar disorder and I can attest, this is so very true. I grew up near the ocean and moved away. I need to go back every so often - and that is getting much more frequent, lately - to feel like I can truly breathe. As soon as I'm on the beach, or even near it, I am able to exhale. It's not greenery, but it is true "nature."



Nature isn't just plants. Nature is the weather, the fantastic spectacle of the sky, changing by the minute.

Nature is rain, snow, fog, the blazing sun and those fantastic things we call "clouds."

Nature is the intricate dance between animals and plants.

Sitting in an office all day, regardless of the potted plants, isn't going to expose you to any of the above.

When you go outside and walk, and more importantly, really focus on what's around you, you become part of a larger world. You start to see fantastic creatures and will be astonished by their delicacy, their amazing colors, their behavior and above all by their beauty.

Maybe you will go home and learn more about them, about insects and the plants that nurture their young. You'll listen to bird calls.

Maybe you'll memorize the sound of a cardinal and one day, you'll be walking along and you'll hear that distinctive whistle and you'll look up into the forest canopy and see the brilliant crimson of that astonishing, lovely and improbable bird, and your heart will sing with joy.

Ravi Chandra

San Francisco, CA

Industrialization and technologization have pushed us away from the basic forms of being a human being. Yes, it does seem obvious that a stroll in nature is better than strolling on a busy highway. But in our modern society, we seem to require proof of everything, even the obvious. Inevitably, there will be studies of the minimal walks needed to provide benefit, and when the benefits plateau. Then we can continue curtailing our green spaces in earnest, to their minimal required plot to provide human benefit. We'll say we cared enough to do this. OMG. I need to take a walk.

Benoit Comeau


I live in the countryside (a forested area). The ladies I've dated over the years (city girls, all of them) have wanted me to move to the city and stay there with them. The result: after 12+ years of 'dating' and refusing to move, I'm still single and living alone. And THAT, IMHO, is what has largely contributed to my serenity, 'stable' mental health and the muffling of my subgenual prefrontal cortex


Botanist and author Diana Beresford-Kroeger, in her books "The Global Forest," "Arboretum America," "Arboretum Borealis" and "The Sweetness of a Simple Life," explains the science behind this story. For instance, now, with 85+ degree temperatures, is the perfect time to head into a pine forest and breathe deeply under the branches for the chemicals that are released in aerosol form by those trees. Medicines come from trees and you don't need a laboratory to extract them, just a warm summer day.


Milwaukie OR  

I believe that loss of contact with the natural world stresses all living things. Anyone who has lived in a natural setting for a period of time -- even a few weeks -- and then must re-enter the world in which most of us live, knows the feeling of intrusion and assault on their natural selves.


Rochester, NY  

Walking anywhere away from traffic or congestion would seem more relaxing and restorative than to be in an atmosphere where you must continually be on alert for the dangers of being a pedestrian. I wonder the brain's response to driving in traffic versus a rural or park like setting would be evident in brain scans? And would the same hold true for bicyclists too?

If you notice most car commercials show the driver on either a road with no traffic or on a road winding through a beautiful setting. What a joy to drive on the open road.

I agree nature can be a balm for the emotional and cognitive functions of the brain. Does this study really measure the effect of nature on the brain, or the absence of navigating a congested car centric world?

D Pack


Isaiah 5:8 Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth!


BC, Canada  

Every gardener knows this.

Longue Carabine


I'm not a scientist. But I know that walking in parks, forests, and the like is indeed soothing and relaxing. Since being "soothed", or "relaxed" pertains to a state of feeling, then it must happen in the--- stop the presses-- brain!

Can I have some of that grant money now, too?



MUCH better than popping a pill. My niece has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and she hates the meds.

Deeply Imbedded

Blue View Lane, Eastport Michigan

After tragedy and loss I have always retreated to nature. Now, alone, it is all that sustains me. A view of water, a walk through the resin odors of my pine forest and through the maples and on to the berry bushes the open meadows and fields of wild flowers to my neighbor's orchid where this time of year I pick sweat cherries.. Each day I walk this. There are always deer and small rodents, often turkeys, a racoon in the tires and songbirds, an occasional high hawk or eagle. Along this path I follow the seasons from summer to golden fall to white bleak blizzard, to wondrous budding spring, on feet and skis in winter. I don't know if it changes the brain, but it sustains the spirit.

Ken L


I would discreetly add that making love in a natural setting multiplies the effect. Talk about relaxing!


Cheshire, CT  

These questions overlook the most obvious factor: people walking along a multilane highway are constantly on alert for the very real possibility that a vehicle is going to leap out of its lane and strike them. This is a study about safe versus unsafe environments, not "green and loamy" versus "mechanized and noisy" environments.

City Guy

Major Cities in US, EU

So we spent a million dollars on a study to tell us that a nice relaxing walk in the park is better for us than a near-death walk by the freeway? Nice!



The human body (with psyche attached) evolved over the past million odd years to thrive outdoors, in nature. Every bit of our cellular machinery is attuned to interacting intimately with that environment.

So, why are we at all surprised that isolating ourselves from that environment, confined to living almost entirely indoors in a perpetual urban artifice, might affect us negatively?

Beats me.

Craig Millett

Kokee, Hawaii

Perhaps we need to flip this around and study whether city living is mentally and emotionally toxic.

Kip Hansen

On the move, Stateside USA  

The effects of getting out and out of yourself are self-evident and coterminous.

The Bratman "studies" are fine examples of the all-too-often-seen nonsense being produced by the wacky world of modern psychology, which has lost all sense of real scientific investigation.

Less than half of psychology studies, when attempted to be replicated, produce results even "similar" -- only 4% produce results that are extremely similar (in other words, find the same result).

Bottom line, the Bratman studies are like the result of Bratman "finding what he was looking for".

Many of us find that taking a walk outdoors and paying attention to our surroundings improves our mood -- walking out in God's world of Nature, in a park or further out, is even better. One does not need imaginary science to find this out -- just get out and do it.



Living where I do in Flatbush, and seeing what I see, and hearing what I am forced to hear, I do a lot of ruminating and brooding.

My ruminating includes wishing I had a zapper for every car going 45 mph on my residential street, for every car sound system that routinely sets off car alarms, for every man who thinks it's okay to urinate in front of where I live, for the gangs who sell drugs and guns on the corner . . . . You get the picture.

Leaving Brooklyn is always heaven. Walking through woods, seeing mountains, shorelines -- one feels such peace.

And then one worries that living in such a place would bring its own set of troubles; racist, homophobic, Christian-fundamentalist country folk who'd look with suspicion on a transplanted Brooklynite.

What's a person to do? Obviously: brood.


Fairbanks, AK  

This study probably rings true for a lot of people, but it's important to recognize that a "quiet, tree-lined path" on Stanford's campus is not the same as nature. How would the volunteers in the second group have fared if they walked among hoards of mosquitoes on the arctic tundra? Or in a sweltering desert? The question of how humans benefit from being outside is a real and interesting one, but we do it a disservice when we limit our definition of nature to one manipulated green space.



There are already decades of peer-reviewed research on the restorative effects of nature on mood and cognition, many of them much more rigorous and with larger samples than Mr. Bratman's studies, as his lit reviews would show. (It's called Environmental Psychology, by the way.) Yet another "Gee whiz" article about what any of us know already, as some of the comments rightly note. Yet most of the local commenters write from their relatively safe neighborhoods and take for granted that the more sedate parts of Central Park, Prospect Park, Riverside Drive, etc are there for their enjoyment. Instead ask the residents of dangerous overcrowded neighborhoods in NYC and elsewhere what they think of our precious Nature: to them it's threatening and chaotic, and so they prefer instead to cocoon themselves and their children indoors in front of cheap flat screen TVs and low-information online dreck. Those are the folks who truly need free access to safe and restorative natural settings, not the jaded denizens of NYT-land.



I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

John Muir (1838 - 1914)

Tom Hebert

Pendleton, Oregon  

Years ago I read a book which included some history of British Victorian-era insane asylums. In fact, they were built in lovely country settings for the exact reasons given here. The doctors involved in this movement would require that their patients, not inmates, would be taken in small groups on daily walks in the woods. And some healing occurred. Thus their new American cousins were also situated in the countryside and many still are. In this country, however, the belief in the healing powers of the regular bucolic walk had been lost as it crossed the ocean.

The subject of the history I read was Dr. W. C. Minor, an insane American doctor who had murdered a Londoner in 1872. Minor was sent to the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, a 53-acre facility near the village of Crowthorne. A US Army pensioner, at Broadmoor he lived in his own unlocked apartment and was encouraged by the chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to pursue his passion for discovering the origins of English words and the ancient source documents with the actual quotations documenting their first known use, their etymology. Thus, today's OED is laced with the results of this insane man's work. The 1998 book by Simon Winchester was “The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words.”


San Francisco  

I believe there is a book called something like Nature Deficit Disorder, about kids who have been labeled with Attention Deficit, who actually have a deficit of contact with nature...

Ann Klefstad

Duluth MN  

After many years of experiencing these benefits in a city, Duluth, that is rich in trails and wild areas in the city-- in fact, these sorts of walks are my primary means of keeping a lifelong tendency to depression at bay-- I think that it may have something to do with an aspect of the green world I am calling "hypercomplexity": human-made environments are both far more visually simple and also more chaotic that natural ones. That is, they tend to be rectilinear, and each chunk of property abuts another with no particular necessary relation. Thus the visual field is both depressingly monotone and chaotic, that is, full of unrelated parts. Natural environments are by contrast extremely complex but not chaotic-- every element of the highly diverse visual field is organically related in a number of ways to the rest of the field. I think that this has great importance for how our brains make sense of the world; how we make meaning.

Simon Sez


A few months ago, in the midst of much emotional suffering, I became a beekeeper.

This not only forced me to go outside daily but truly has distracted me from my own tsures ( French for problems).

The honeybees are having a rough time. They are our future and in such a simple thing as helping them out, we get so much back.

Nature is amazing.

We are nature.

Do anything that gets you into nature.

You will be happy and that is so sweet.

OSS Architect

San Francisco  

I don't think Mr Bratman's results were as obvious as they seem to some commenters. Since I live and work near Stanford, I know where the subjects went on their walks.

The results may have been different if the bucolic setting used was the trail to "the Dish" (Stanford's radio telescope). The trail itself is very pleasant, but Stanford limits it's use by making parking at the trailhead onerous. Blackening the best of moods.

On the urban route (that I think it is) it's odd to see people on foot. "Look mommy a homeless person...." kids in passing Mercedes and BMW's are imagined to be saying. If there is a center in the brain for registering humiliation, then it's getting directly targeted.

In the middle of Tokyo you will come across small public gardens where people come to sit on bleacher seats and stare at the landscape. Despite all the people around you and the urban noise, it's quite soothing. Amazingly so.

I think nature surroundings have an effect, but it's more complex than what is explained here.

Liz Casey

Roslindale mass 

As someone who is very disabled due to multiple sclerosis,I practice deep breathing while I visualize jogging 3 or 4 times a week. I usually imagine traversing through the Arnold Arboretum near my house, noticing specific things like the birds or the crabapple trees, and of course the weather. Sometimes I go to the beach. But every time I feel better, and I know I am getting an endorphin high. Isn't the brain beautiful?



Walking by a noisy highway vs a quiet green area doesn't seem to prove the benefits of 'nature' as much as the aggravation of noise. It would have been MORE interesting if a third group had walked through a quiet art gallery, a peaceful space but not nature. I wholly support that being 'in the country' or a quiet green space is calming IN GOOD WEATHER but this study doesn't cut it for me and sure doesn't prove the thesis of your article headline.

John Serfustini

Price, UT  

You don't need lush woods and forests. In the desert north of my home, dirt bikes and all terrain vehicles have torn up arid land. In the places that have not been gouged, little flowers bloom. This is neither a grand vista nor a place populated with towering trees. However, a daily walk gets you acquainted with these little guys on a one-on-one basis. You get philosophical about how they blossom with a little water and poor soil, individuals widely separated and struggling quietly to survive. Birds do the background music at dawn. Good cardio for a walker, probably as good for the mind.



This is why, after 6 years of brooding in NYC, I moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where it is easier to find the elements that rebalance the mind and crowd out the persistent self-loathing. New York may be a jungle, but it is a concrete one that made me feel like a caged rat.

A good study might be to see if the effect is larger in natives of NYC or those who are accustomed to a more pastoral setting to begin with.

Peter O.

Portland, Oregon 

Equating cities with heavy car traffic and a lack of green space is simplistic. The most stressful thing for humans in "urban" settings is indeed car traffic. But cars are inherently anti-urban; they're sub-urban (insult intended).

But there are plenty of cities with human-scaled, peaceful, quiet green spaces (and even areas with no greenery). What makes any place more stressful is car traffic and the roads and parking lots to support it. Just walk down a narrow medieval alleyway in Barcelona or similar European cities and marvel at how peaceful, cozy, and contemplative it feels, even with no nature in sight.
What creates stress is the presence of cars, both in dense cities like New York and in the soul-sucking suburbs and parking lots that cover most of this nation. I'd like to see a study on human stress and emotions comparing a resident of, say, walkable Paris with unwalkable Parsippany.

johnny p

rosendale ny  

An office is not a forest, a coffee pot not a brook. Don't kid yourself, a stroll around the office is a sad substitute for being in nature. There are probably thousands of stimuli that are impossible to measure when we visit nature, our real home.



And what happens if the forest is full of mosquitoes and black flies?


Santa Ynez, CA  

My mother spent the last years of her life in a special care facility close to me. At one point we looked at a place that had Bigger room but she chose the smaller place because she could walk through outside paths and sit on a Patio lush with plants ans birds.



It is no secret that what stimuli the brain is exposed to shapes the neural pathways and makes limbic connections for better or for worse. And this is a never-ending process. What IS a secret is how powerful a process this is. It trumps genetics every time.

It is through this process that we learn, and habits are formed. This is why we are the most successful of species- because our brains are the most plastic and adaptive. Of course, it helps to have an opposable thumb! Genetics plays only a peripheral role.

We are finding out that we are what we do and expose ourselves to- not, as is a popular misconception, that we are what we eat. Our brains rise to the challenge. Over time, brain neural networks involving all areas of the brain (100 billion neurons) physically change.

We can extend this to deal with common public health problems- obesity, for instance. All attempts at long-term weight control through diet manipulation, pharmacological intervention, and exercise fail because at its core obesity results from learned, maladaptive behavior. Not genetics or metabolic differences.

Interestingly, people can learn to change their hunger set-points by forcing themselves to fast for a part of the day- the brain at first rebels, but then adapts to the new norm. Weight loss can result as indicated by small pilot studies. Larger ones are needed.

I would recommend Dewey's "The No Breakfast Plan" and Hagan's "Br  eakfast: The Least Important Meal of the Day."


Binghamton NY  

This is a no brainer: The answer of course (in my humble opinion) is to spend as much time as humanly possible out in nature, preferably hiking, and as little time as possible at work or in noisy urban settings. Spending hours on trails, hiking to the tops of mountains etc. is the ultimate way to forget you even have any problems in your real "life"!


Boston, MA  

I often walk in the Middlesex Fells Reservation, a 2500 acre park near Boston, established in 1893. So great, and sometimes I see unexpected things.

Perry J Greenbaum


This is an excellent and important article not only on the scientific bnefits of walking, but also on the over-all benefits of having access to public parks; on a personal level there is nothing like a 15- to 20-minute walk to sort out one's thoughts, and a walk in nature is the best antidote to muddled and conflicting thoughts. As to whether walking alone is more beneficial, the answer is, as is often the case, "it depends..."

Andrew Porter

Brooklyn Heights  

When I was undergoing chemotherapy, I could sit in my apartment and feel ill and weak, or I could sit in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, surrounded by green, living things while experiencing the effects of chemo. I chose the latter.

Valerie Striar


I lead walking meditation at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. It is a beautiful place to go to reconnect to nature and remember that we are part of not separate from her. It's the "inter-are connection." We walk slowly, with attention on our breath. Walking not to arrive but to just to walk. A chance to clear the mind from its incessant over working and arrive back in the heart and body. Thich Nhat Hanh, in quotes below, and other great teachers write inspired words about the gifts of walking meditation, which is part of every monks daily ritual. Giving back to the earth with steps of peace. "Peace in every step. The shining red sun is my heart. Each flower smiles with me. How green, how fresh all that grows. How cool the wind blows. Peace is every step. It turns the endless path to joy." It is possible to live in a city and find the wild places. Prospect Park and the Gardens hold the sounds, sights and smells to rejuvenate the senses. If we city dwellers restore ourselves on a regular basis we can use our progressive thinking to care for our planet and ourselves no matter where we are.

Paul Weideman

Santa Fe  

I think it's not simply the "leafy, quiet" and "loamy smells" that change our mental activity walking in nature, it's a return to instinct. Especially when alone, you're basically in the wilderness and pretty quickly the incessant internal dialogue turns off and the senses wake up — there is an instinctive imperative to be attuned to unfamiliar, unpredictable danger, be it rattlesnake, bear, cougar, or lightning. Out there, survival awareness is more important than worrying about jobs and relationships.

Miss Ley

New York  

Until recently, the only time I remember the joy of walking, was in my youth at 17 in the rural country of Ireland. I discovered a lonely estate when climbing over a fence, and after a mile surrounded by trees and green foliage, the house was waiting to welcome me.

Destroyed on Christmas day in the early 30s when a maid's hair at dawn caught on fire, it was boarded up, but it had a warm presence, and looking over an edge, the view of a mysterious lake with a swan, drew some moments of quiet reflection and meditation.

It is true that I was not alone on this expedition, and while I was pontificating out loud about religion, philosophy and poetry, my companion gave me his full attention. He then got fed up, and knocked me over. Brian Boru was his name, and he was a wonderful Irish Greyhound.



I heard a farmer say the other day that she encounters few people in the course of her life. She gets plenty of nature, of course. She seemed very level-headed - but also narrow-minded - because she doesn't often encounter unique perspectives. Give me a city with green spaces that make you feel like you're getting away from it all - All things in moderation.


Iowa City  

It may seem silly (this study is endlessly mocked by neuroscientists on Twitter) or obvious but it is at least worth thinking about why a walk in nature is in some sense restorative. Human created environments, even if they seem chaotic as a highway, are designed to be orderly and predictable. Nature is not orderly and only partially predictable and that is what our minds are adapted to. When we spend all day in an office we delude ourselves into thinking that our natural state is within the wilderness of other minds. That may be adaptive within our community but our social environment is but a limited and blinkered subset of our naturally disordered environment.

Josh Hill

New London, Conn.  

I don't know that it's the ultimate path -- you still have to get along with your wife and go to work in the morning -- but I think there's no question that it can help, since so much of what we bring to the table is a consequence of our own emotional responses, and where those reactions are counterproductive they can be changed.

But way of life also matters. The Danes are the world's happiest people and having had a Danish uncle by marriage, I can understand why. They make a science of living well. Not living richly, not trying to outdo the Joneses, but living *well,* surrounded by simple comforts and beauty, and with a high degree of social cohesion and responsibility.

Josh Hill

New London, Conn.  

This doesn't surprise me at all. On a personal level, all I have to do is step out into the back yard, with its trees, flowers, and chirping birds, to feel a profound change in mood.

On a biological level, we tend to forget how exquisitely attuned we are to the natural world in which we evolved. Intellectually, we know that the urban environment is suited to our current way of life. But at a lower level in the brain, concrete, ugly buildings, polluted air, noise, and the press of people are interpreted as threats, while we suffer at the same time from lack of stimulation and instincts that once led us to hunt, gather, fish, and move about have no outlet.

I like to think that we will one day become wise enough to understand that the artificial environments we create have to satisfy not just our functional present but our evolutionary past, but as things now stand, we seem to be very far from that, and moving farther every day.

Petey Tonei


Nature heals us. Just in case we find ourselves in a situation where we are unable to have access to the outdoors' fresh air, greenery, perhaps weather related issues in long winter months, there is a way out, its proven, its bene in use for thousands of years if not tens of thousands. It is an ancient way of breath control. Long and deep breathing does marvels to our mood. there is scientific evidence as well, one does not have to retreat to a cave, and meditate for years. It is a simple process of watching breath and taking deep long slow breaths to cleanse our inner thoughts and a way of "resetting" our brain to start afresh.

May all be benefited.

Bruce Murray

Prospect, Kentucky  

As a city dweller I've had a reputation for being happy and well involved. But living directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, I was able to walk the Cincinnati waterfront parks on almost a daily basis. I'm sure these early morning walks helped to soothe my mind.

We may think that this research can lead to a different behavior for people but I see it was a call to cities to provide more calm green spaces for residents. I'm sure the entire population will benefit.



Must it be a park? My relatively small (6000 sq. ft.) intensely landscaped garden and waterway provide not only a quiet place but one which requires maintenance, therefore exercise. It also inspires curiosity and learning. It's day and night inhabitants and visitors provide entertainment and provoke study. The garden's needs require research and observation. The tending of it's trees and plants provide a variety of cardiovascular, stretching and strengthening exercises. It's tranquility provides a place to read and rest, and is especially welcome at days end. Gardens are possible for urban inhabitants - on roof tops, in vacant plots and even on balconies, which can be landscaped to provide an oases amidst the cachophony of urban life. Roof top gardens and/or atriums should be required of all new and retrofitted urban structures. They not only provide a soothing retreat for occupants, but reduce noise and air pollution, can be cultivated to provide a local source of fresh vegetables, and configured to significantly reduce utility costs.


Los Angeles  

The sad thing is that so many children these days are not exposed to Nature, and when they are brought out to a natural area, are fearful of every unknown thing, worried that terrible wild animals will attack them. This is the result of watching too many nature shows instead of experiencing nature.


New York City  

Whether the scientific community verifies it or not, I know that for myself, the insanity of incessant noise and stimulation in the city or even in my community keeps me in a state of constant low-to-high-level stress, depending on what it is; whereas walking in a forest, or a national park, or on a quiet beach, or even on the streets very early in the morning - anything that provides peace and quiet is always calming, relaxing, soothing and even refreshing. Always.

Twenty minutes of swimming in the ocean helps me revitalize and remineralize, and real, days-long rest, without computer, phone, internet, ipad, e-reader activity does amazing things for me. My mood improves, as does my sleep quality, my stress levels decrease and my attitude is so much happier.

We are human beings who are pushed constantly to be hyper-achieving human doings. Walking in nature is the perfect antidote for that.


New York, NY  

Aha! A scientist discovers human beings are attuned to their environment.

This article typifies two things: the emptiness of most of what passes for scientific research, and the emptiness of most reporting on science.

Sometimes a new form of measurement actually represents a substantial advance on existing knowledge, but usually it only amounts to putting old wine in a new bottle.

The researcher and the reporter should both break this new bottle into pieces, quietly pick up the shards, and throw them away. Then they should look for something that is actually new -- and news.

Oh, yes, whoever is funding the researcher should do the same.


North of 69th  

When is the Times going to stop publishing articles in which neuroscientists offer their great revelation: that when we do things and feel things, something happens in our brains. No kidding. Doesn't Ms Reynolds see how meaningless this sort of statement is: "If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people’s minds." Not just meaningless but wrong. The changes that exposure to nature (which is not what parks are, by the way) causes can be studied quite well without any fMRIs or electrodes. Finding the neurological mechanisms (which are inevitably oversimplified in such research, because in fact many senses and many parts of our bodies are involved) does not explain the phenomenon. It doesn't even describe the phenomenon.

pamela mercier

Saint Paul  

I know for myself that just sitting and gazing into the green lushness of the trees in my backyard calms my mood. The light and shadows there and- sometimes- the gentle movement of leaves seems to soothe me. I believe part of the effect is due to the green colors - and there are many different shades- and another part of the impact may come from connecting these green colors to trees.
I have access to this leafy haven in my backyard, but it is small. When I go to the local Arboretum I am stunned by the large tapestry of green that greets me on my walk there. It feels like entering peacefulness itself.
Yes, I believe looking at nature as well as walking in it changes us; and, of course, that means it is changing our brains, too, doesn't it?



Maybe this is not scientifically measurable. Walking through nature seems to cause a subtle purification of ones mental state. Swimming in fresh pristine freezing cold water has a similar effect but is almost instant. Freezing cold water seems to somehow cleanse the soul. It is impossible to emerge without feeling fantastic for days after. Maybe walking amongst living plants has a similar unquantifiable effect however much more subtle.

I remember when our babies were cranky and refused to eat - we would simply take them outside and feed them under one of the trees in the back yard - whatever it was, distracted them enough to make feeding time possible. (Try it sometime…)

I cannot help but suspect that something in the natural environment (and freezing cold water) "washes" off much of the baggage people carry around with them.
Adventure certainly allows the conscious mind to work more in the here and now and to "forget" in a similar way that Buddhist Monks try to distract the mind by meditating. Maybe a walk in the park makes us spend more time living in the here and now or allows the mind/body to shrug off some of the "armouring" that builds up over time when a person has had a hard time in life…I know cold water "shocks" it off. A quick dip in really cold water is probably the closest thing to a near death experience you can safely have. So is distraction the key here or is it something more spiritual and connected to the environment that nurtured us initially?



A lot of ignorance being shown in these comments. "You had to do a study to reach this conclusion??" Of course we all know that a walk in nature makes us feel better; the point of the study was to see exactly *WHY*.

We all know that alcohol in excess is bad, but if we didn't know WHY it's bad or what exactly occurs in the body when one is an alcoholic, finding a way to cure it or at least treat the damage done would be like shooting in the dark.

We know that being in love makes us feel amazing, but in observing WHY - what *mechanism* is being activated - we can learn so much more (for ex: the pathways that light up when one is in love are the same as when eating large amounts of chocolate; or that the effect of sugar and cocaine are similar in their effects on the reward centers).

Yeah, we all KNOW that if you get a bruise, it hurts. But knowing WHY it hurts, and all the other things there are to know about it, can be invaluable: brain contusions are essentially bruises of the brain; by knowing more about the WHY of a regular bruise, we can approach contusions with a more elightened eye.


San Francisco  

I strongly think that the most outstanding factor here is the NOISE level. Our urban environment is utterly noisy, which is tantamount to getting repetitive small concussions on the brain. Walking along the highways without headphones, as if that would help, brings so much noise into the auditory nerve and in to the inner ear, to the brain. Plus the pollution with all the noxious products in it. I hope this study will lead to a redirection toward this plague of noise and more noise.
Nafiss Griffis


American heartland  

"That portion... were quieter"?

The literacy level of newspaper journalists these days is incredibly poor.

It should be "that portion... was quieter." "Were" would be appropriate for a plural subject.



There may be more benefits than discussed here, although as usual, more research is needed.

Why has the ADHD label increased so much? We can probably make a list of reasons, and there may be important reasons we haven't even thought of yet. However, for now, consider just two candidates from recent research:

  1. Exposure to nature (even simply improved school landscaping) improves children's concentration and diminished disruptive behavior.
  2. Physical activity improves children's concentration and diminished disruptive behavior. (I am continually stunned that my local school district, and probably many others, have tried to improve academics by essentially eliminating recess -- a strategy that's bound to backfire if ever that was one).

I'm not saying that #1 and #2 alone will solve every child's problems, but for many children regular walks in the park might be enough to dodge that ADHD label and a lifetime on Ritalin.


Houston, TX  

Get a dog. He/she knows when you really need that dose of the open air.



As long as mobile device doesn't accompany walker.


Upper Midwest 

So many interwoven, complex layers in natural settings. Man made systems are brittle, not integrated, chaotic. As the billowing wind blows across one's face, branches undulate, leaves ripple, dappled layers of light flutter over the grass, a brief fragrance of roses wafts by, then vanishes as mysteriously as it came, and from a fountain, a minty spray quenches warm dry skin from summer sun.

Big Sky Country

Bozeman, MT  

“To explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it hope rises on its currents.”
― Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia


New York, NY

It seems like an important aspect of this study was ignored, that is, NOISE! It is well known that noise affects us, so it's not surprising that the people who walked in a quiet place felt better than those who walked along a busy road. Maybe nature had nothing to do with it. They should try repeating the experiment with the participants wearing headphones and listening to the same sounds. Bad science.


Washington, Dc  

Interesting article.....heard a story about a low stress-hormoned northern Vermont farmer living near the NY State border. Upon learning from a state surveyor that his farm was in fact in NY State, not Vermont, he responded: 'Why that's super; now I don't have to live through any more of those frigid Vermont winters'...


New England  

I'm lucky to live in a peaceful suburb that has a 300 acre park, largely untouched and not landscaped. The result are many walking/hiking trails through pristine woods, through open meadows of wildflowers, beside a rushing river, over a small waterfall. I go there frequently, sometimes at midday to escape the world and recharge. I brought my kids there when they were young and to this day, we all will walk together and enjoy this sanctuary.



In 2009 I went to Baghdad to spend a year in the Green Zone working at the American Embassy. Within the first week, I developed a serious anxiety condition, and I eventually left early, completing only three and a half months. Yet the frequent rocket attacks didn't seem to faze me, so it wasn't triggered by that. At the time, I was convinced it was cabin fever exacerbated by the complete absence of the greenery and contact with nature that I love and was craving. This article would seem to give credence to my gut sense of what was happening to me. I've heard that since my short tenure there, the U.S. Embassy compound has planted more grass and trees and flowers on the compound. I wonder if it's making a difference in reducing stress levels?


Hamid Varzi


One does not require a scientific study to prove the obvious, namely, that visiting or living in nature reduces stress!



Some of the most peaceful moments I have ever had in my life were when I was walking in nature. I can go from very stressed: tense muscles, heart racing, shallow breathing, racing thoughts, negative mental outlook, angry/sad/irritable mood to one of relaxation, calmness, peace and serenity in mind and body within maybe 20 minutes into a nature walk. Also I live way out in the country so you would think I would be immune to chronic stress that most urban dwellers face according to this article, but that is simply not true. People who live out in the country face hardships too plus most of us have longer commutes to work then city dwellers do and that is very stressful. I have found that many of my friends/family who live in the country basically spend most of their time inside and in their cars. I literally have to remind myself to get outside and breathe in nature. You would think it would be easier for someone surrounded by nature to go walk in nature but it seems technology is keeping us inside.


Brooklyn, NY  

Ironically, the NYC Parks Department doesn't seem to respect people's needs for a quiet walk in the park to settle our least not in Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Residents have begged park officials and local police to enforce rules against loud radio playing, since large groups loudly play radios as they dance and do exercise at all times of the day and night. These authorities simply refuse to act and many of us suffer as a result from the incessant noise.


Santa Ynez, CA  

I have always walked my dogs throughout the foothills or green spaces near my home. I always thought it gave both me and my dogs necessary exercise and me a great appreciation of nature. Or is a wonderful way to end the day. Due to excessive heat we finally planted a large part of our backyard with native plants. Sometimes I through a ball for the dogs to chase out there. Having the plants there and watching them grow makes that experience better. My mantra is nature, nature and nature. It soothes the soul.


Los Angeles  

I went from living in an environment absent of lush greenery to one filled with it and I find it's somehow more peaceful (both are suburban areas and all other things being equal such as commute time to work, size of my residence etc.). Maybe it's the color green, or more birds singing, or the scents, but it has had a calming effect. It could even be variables such as the sunlight around me is filtered and not so intense. Whatever it is, I have come to believe being surrounded by nature definitely has it's benefits.

Laurie Gaarvin

Berea oh  

I will take this article to heart. I never thought about this. I am always seek brain stimuli. I am in a nursing home and my stimuli are books as well as photography.


New York, NY  

Try taking a long walk in certain spots on Manhattan city streets at dawn on a Sunday morning. Empty streets, few, but only occasional vehicles on the avenues. There is also peace, serenity, awe, and beauty which can be captured and which I find similar to what Reynolds describes in her resources found in nature. Many details in the city at this time become relevant and enjoyable that are not, or cannot be sensed during the stress and anxiety felt during the fast-paced and on guard other times of day and evening.



I grew up in the country - quiet - and boring - when there's no-one else for miles around it can be kinda scary - and stultifying - not much intellectual activity from those uneducated farmers

now I live in the centre of a city - exciting - and actually quieter when I want it - during the week it may be more noisy (tho' I live in a cul-de-sac with no through-traffic) while I'm away at work so I don't hear it - on the weekend when I'm at home it's quiet - so perfect.

also just a short stroll away is a recent world's best tall building which has lots of green plants on its outside vertical walls so is quite lovely to walk around -

I reckon peace comes from inside your mind - skip the sugar and excess calories, relax your mind, focus on now, gaze at the beauty of nature - and I can be absorbed by the beauty of a single leaf on a busy city street



Santa Barbara, CA  

I work in an industrial area. Most afternoons I take a half-hour walk on the road that leads past the airport and a sewage-treatment facility. The marsh, lagoon, and meadows around these facilities are homes to amazing plants and wildlife. I see herons, egrets, ducks, orioles, hummingbirds, geese, crows, hawks, vultures, swallows, mockingbirds, jays, blackbirds, finches, butterflies, and moths almost daily. I see squirrels, and gophers as well, and have even seen a gorgeous blue-eyed bobcat a couple times. Plant life includes both local natives and beautiful landscaping around the facilities: grasses, coral trees, agave, reeds, bushes, and more. I always feel better after immersing myself in this unexpected natural environment.

J. W.


Yet, when participants on the nature walks were joined by Donald Trump brooding increased, along with a visible gnashing of teeth and generalized feelings of "what are you looking at, commie!"


Connecticut River Valley  

I have organized my whole life around this principle. I have lived in both NYC and Boston, and for me, living in the country is better. But if you took your nature walks where bears and/or cougars and/or poisonous snakes live, your subgenual prefrontal cortex might not calm down. So, the human-controlled city park or country lane is best, I guess. I just doubt that our ancestors, worn out from their labors, contemplated taking a walk of any kind to calm down. They were probably too exhausted and too fearful of the woods.

Linda Watson

Raleigh, NC  

I'd love to see a similar study exploring the effect of preparing fresh fruits and vegetables for a meal. Making a salad, a big pot of greens, or a peach cobbler feels like a nature break, especially when paying attention to the beauty before you.

Ed Volpintesta

Bethel, CT  

Gretchen Reynolds in her essay “How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain” ( Well, July 22) describes how city dwellers, have less access to natural spaces and are more prone to depression and anxiety and brooding (fixating on what is wrong in our lives).
She also mentioned that scientific studies showed that persons’ negative thinking improved after walking in quiet, green surrounding.
As an antidote she extols the benefits of walking in “green natural spaces” in warding off those negative emotions warding off depression and anxiety.
Ralph Waldo Emerson who was an essayist, not a scientist, knew very well the benefits of enjoying nature. In his essay “Nature” written in 1836 he said: “In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,--no disgrace, no calamity… which nature cannot repair”.
Edward Volpintesta

Howard Gilman

The Bronx, New York  

The restfulness of the color green could be important to this study. Quieter sounds are more restful than louder sounds that cause flight instinctively with other animals.




Why is this even an article to read, I mean duh... yeah, I totally enjoy being in the woods, or on a hike or at the beach or meadow or mountains by a brook any day then walking down a busy city street.

June Perkins-Eilenstine

Portland, OR  

I Live across the street from a big park with lots of steep little hills to huff and puff up and down. I try to have a 30 minute moderately fast-paced walk every day. I do it for the exercise but I love the trees and sky, and little vistas across the green lawn. I've had many encounters with people and creatures, mostly pleasant ones. I saw a family of baby cotton-tails lolling in the grass one hot day, and I had an encounter with a tiny snake that coiled up and opened his mouth up wide, like he was going to eat me if I didn't get going. Sometimes I consider getting a treadmill, this is much more fun. No way would I give up my walks.

Mary Sojourner

Flagstaff, Az.  

In many tribes, young women also go through outdoor initiation ceremonies. It is also important to note that for too many tribes, colonization and dominant culture take-over have reduced those ceremonies.

Manuel Molles

La Veta, CO  

As a child I was privileged to live near wild places where I could freely roam. As a result, I learned early the comfort that contact with nature offers. As pointed out by many readers, this has been common knowledge for millennia. However, after a long career in science, I appreciate how the research reported here complements this common knowledge. The goal of the research is not to "prove" what is already known but to search out the physiological mechanisms for the positive effects of contact with nature and, as pointed out in the article, to explore details that are not at all obvious, for example, what sorts of places provide the most benefit and how much time spent in nature is ideal. This information will not diminish the of poetry by Wordsworth and others but freshen their insights with deeper understanding. The "hard" data will also provide another avenue of defense against those that would trash all of nature for personal gain.


Petey Tonei


We are part of nature too. Nature rejoices through us. We are not apart from Nature.

Jay Jay


American Indian Tribes have know for thousands of years the importance of teaching their children how to appreciate and communicate with nature!
Many Tribes in California of the Ohlone Nation(Costanoan Rumsen Tribe et al) still today require their young men to spend time praying and fasting in the outdoors as a rite of passage into adulthood.

Jana Hesser

Providence, RI  

I do not think the absence of plants is the problem but the immobility of sitting on a chair all day is definitely detrimental to physical and mental health.

I have seen offices with plenty of green, crowded with plants, but I am sure it does not make much difference if the eyes are glued to a screen all day. By contrast real long routes to the coffeepot that encourage breaks to walk every now and then adds some kinesthesia to the day, which is more important than the presence of trees.

Also chance encounters on the way to the coffee pot can help with mental health not to mention creativity and therefore increased productivity.

E. T. Malone, Jr.

Warrenton, N. C.  

The author writes "That portion of their brains WERE quieter." It seems that an increasing number of people are making this same error in grammar, not recognizing what is the subject of the sentence. Clearly, it's the "portion" that IS quieter. I don't mean to be a pedant or grammar Nazi, but there seems to be a veritable epidemic of this particular mistake, even among quite educated people.




I live in the Adirondacks. I'm surrounded by beauty. But I tend a garden on a village street and the meth heads, alcoholics and irritable young moms with 3 kids under 5 pass by. Are they happier because they live in an area that's surrounded by lakes, mountains and tall white pines? I don't think so. Rural poverty is a tough thing, and scenery isn't the answer. This analysis only works for some of the people some of the time.



A (or some) Japanese researchers have been looking at 'forest bathing' for the past few years. The conclusion is a general heightened sense of 'feel good' and overall wellness, possibly more than mere psychological (more oxygen in the forest).

I would hope Bratman et al has looked at 'forest bathing' and cited the work already done.



Of course going outdoors, and being in a relatively more natural environment, is good for us. We didn't evolve to live in boxes. We've put ourselves into situations that have similarities to being zoo animals -- a cage of limited, familiar interior spaces, a small drab outdoor space, repetitive activities. Not only is this depressing and unhealthy, it's a radically simplified environment compared to a genuinely natural one, with its variety of plants, animal, terrain, and weather. Not only ago the Times published an article about what happens to animal species when they're domesticated (their brains shrink and they get stupider), with some consideration of whether we've domesticated ourselves. Well, obviously. Think of all the alertness we don't need to have, all the awareness we don't possess.



Bingo! I'll add that both my and my dog's favorite time of day is our 30 mintue walk in the morning before I go to work. On the days I manage to take him for 2 walks, we both get a double dose of awesome! On weekends, our walks are often in a canyon near my house or at the beach.



Belaboring the obvious. Conversing with bird interlocutors, one learn more--tey do NOT talk of sports, of investments, of pharmaceuticals, but they DO talk of predation, of weather, and in their "whisper song" low near their nests, domestic needs.



hiawassee, ga  

My father often took me with him to walk in the woods, pointing out different trees, plants, birds, etc. He thoroughly enjoyed a connection with nature and my own enthusiasm I owe to him. One feature of our natural world that has been proven a boon to overall human health is running water - creeks, streams, falls especially - as they give off negative ions as opposed to positive ion abundance found in cities and around man-made structures. The sound itself is soothing. I believe this phenomenon is the reason my grandson and son-in-law take 30-minute showers! Mine are not so lengthy but I do give thanks for the therapeutic effect.

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Michael Keezing

Easthampton, MA  

Better mood and less rumination (improvement in one's state of mind) is something most everyone feels after time spent in nature. That this affects the brain is only "news" if you think that some mental states have physical brain correlates (and therefore "change the brain") and others don't. But they all do, as has long been clear. And of course, changes in the brain relating to mental experiences, like the seen/heard/smelled/felt experience of walking in the park, may have subsequent effects on the mind -- the elevated mood may last. Great to remind people that a walk in the park is good for the mind. But to suggest that what really matters is the walk's effects on the (mysterious, hidden, and fundamental) brain is just a modern way of saying it's good for the (mysterious, hidden, and fundamental) soul. Do we need this recourse to the modern religion to justify something so manifestly, self-evidently positive?


Josh Hill

 New London, Conn.  

Sure, but once things are on an objective scientific basis it becomes easier to argue for their importance -- and we can get a more detailed understanding of just what it is that we should do to improve our lives.

Richard Janssen


Could it be that an occasional change of scene is what we all need to keep from going crazy -- country dwellers and city slickers alike?


Karolyn Schalk

Gardening and gardens are a marker of civic life - they can amplify what makes us humane by allowing us to turn off the anxiety that is quite literally 'baked' into us when we communicate with other humans. I think this is also why spending time with domestic animals or watching birds and other critters is so relaxing.


Norway, MI  

I live in Michigan's beautiful Upper Peninsula where Calvin Trillin says we are surrounded almost everywhere by sylvan beauty. Come and visit.

lark Newcastle

Stinson Beach CA  

Nature gives us oxygen to breath and the music of wind and lovely vistas. It does not give us high levels of carbon monoxide and ozone, which affect the heart, lungs and brains of those who breathe it. Take a walk in a wild place today, if you can.



A quiet stroll or sit among trees is always beneficial to me. It is sight, sound, smell all combined, plus just the emotional uplift I get from the feeling of space and stillness that trees evoke. I am sure that reduces many of the stress chemicals that course through me. It is just relaxing and relaxing is a great way to promote both mental and physical health.




How similar this study sounds to the study of meditators and how their brain patterns change as a result of meditation practice. What is common, in my nonscientific understanding of both areas, is that the results are quite similar, if not scientifically identical. This raises a bigger question that begs consideration: Is understanding the nature of mind by individuals the ultimate path to promoting fundamental sanity and healthy living?



This doesn't surprise me! I am never at peace so much as when I am out hiking, or even just walking. But hiking in a forest or a wildlife refuge, even walking through a pine glade, lifts my mood immeasurably.