Study Shows That Outdoors Walks Improve Brain Structure

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A study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development concluded that taking outdoor walks was good for your brain. This study proves the previously assumed theory that taking walks is beneficial to your mental health.

Being outdoors is good for your brain structure 

Before arriving at this conclusion, the researchers monitored the daily habits of 6 healthy middle-aged city dwellers for 6-8 months. Throughout the study, 40-50 MRI brain scans were taken for each of them. A total of 280 MRIs were conducted. 

The researchers asked participants to report their behaviour in the last 24 hours, focusing more on their time outdoors. They also asked them about their water intake, exercise and their intake of caffeinated beverages to determine if it changed the association between the time spent outside and the brain. The duration of sunshine was also measured to account for seasonal changes.

The researchers did statistical calculations to identify how much influence the duration of sunshine, seasonal changes, fluid and caffeine intake had on brain structure. They found that the benefits to the brain persisted when they took these variables into account.

Researchers concluded that walking outdoors was linked to more gray matter in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain, which influences planning, regulation and cognitive control, also known as executive control. Cognitive control is the process by which plans influence a person’s behaviour.

According to Simone Kühn, one study author, a neuroscientist and psychologist, being outdoors causes an improvement in brain structure and mood. It also affects working memory and improves concentration.

Applications of the study

Many psychiatric disorders are linked to a reduction of gray matter in the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Anna Mascherek, another study author, theorises that with the results of their study, psychiatrists will now prescribe walking along with other forms of therapy to treat mental disorders.

The study is far from complete. Researchers now plan to conduct the same research on people living in rural areas. The resulting brain changes will be compared to people living in the city. This might open up more conversation on how the environment can affect mental health.

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