Author: Darby Jenny
Living in Seattle gives us so many opportunities to get outside and enjoy nature. In a one hour drive you can be in the beautiful alpine wilderness or you can take a short bus ride and make it to one of Seattle’s phenomenal parks. Seattle is so connected to the natural world and there is a myriad of opportunities to explore it. Even better, time outside can help your brain! This has been something many people have noticed for centuries but there has not always been empirical evidence.
There are so many wonderful aspects of nature such as lush forests, the scent of flowers, fresh air, sunlight, and so much more. But what is it about nature that helps the brain and how does it help? A study at Stanford University sought out to find just how much nature and green spaces affects brain activity. The study had volunteers walk through either a park or along a busy highway. The researchers analyzed activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that is the area associated with decision-making and personality behavior. Not surprisingly the people who walked in nature were more relaxed and less stressed and there was less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex, which supports the hypothesis. Walking outside is such an easy solution to reducing stress in your life and in turn helping your brain.
Countries outside of the United States have even began promoting spending time outside as a public health initiative. In Finland the government recommends spending 40-50 minutes outside to produce physiological changes. South Korea has gone one step further and has designated three forests as healing forests with plans for many more.
If you are looking to find a great hike near you I suggest checking out wta.org for information about all the hiking trails in Washington. Additionally, Seattle has many wonderful parks that might be more accessible than a day hike. Some of my favorites are: Discovery Park, Seward Park, and Carkeek Park.