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Written by
FionaOutdoors
FionaOutdoors

Give your brain a break on a walking holiday

A new study in Scotland has revealed that a walk in the park could be the key to avoiding “brain fatigue”. A modern phenomenon, brain fatigue has long been identified by scientists as the human brain’s limited ability to stay calm and focused, especially when faced with the stimulation overload of modern life. But now research published by two Edinburgh universities in The British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that the simple answer to brain fatigue is to take a stroll amid leafy nature. The theory goes that visiting green spaces, natural landscapes and, more obviously, woodland, will relieve stress and improve concentration. This stands to reason. But what the researchers at Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh have also found is that natural settings invoke “soft fascination”, which is a wonderful phrase used to describe “quiet contemplation, during which directed attention is barely called upon and the brain can reset those overstretched resources and reduce mental fatigue”. We're loving this research because it goes to show how mentally relaxing and rejuvenating a walking holiday can be.

The walk in the park theory put to the test

Previous studies have found that people who live close to trees and parks have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Added to this, children with attention deficit disorders concentrate better after walking through parks. Scientists have also found that when people are shown photographs of natural scenes, brain wave read-outs are calmer. The researchers took the analysis a step further using a lightweight, portable version of a electroencephalogram, which is a clever gadget  that studies brain wave patterns. Twelve healthy young adults were assessed both in leafy parks and urban settings. The results from the brain wave patterns confirmed showed that being in green spaces lessen brain fatigue. Being in an urban place, the brain was more “aroused and frustrated” than when walking through a park, where brain-wave readings became more meditative. Jenny Roe, a lecturer at Heriot-Watt’s School of the Built Environment, who oversaw the study, said that the results showed that “while natural environments still engage the brain, the attention demanded is effortless”. She added: “It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection.”

Go out an walk a bit more

While the study group was small it’s thought that further research will only build on the theory that being in natural surroundings is great for stress relief and brain calming. This means that walking is not just good for your physical health but also for your mental well-being. If you think your brain might enjoy a walking holiday please do get in contact!  
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