Berlin, German (BBN) – Moving closer to secluded forests is good for the brain. German researchers have uncovered the first physical proof that living on the edge of a forest boosts brain power.
Living near an abundance of trees makes adults less stressed by strengthening an area of the brain that controls emotional processing, they found, reports Daily Mail.
The amygdala, an area of grey matter vital for processing anxiety, was more robust in the people involved in the study.
The same correlation did not exist when they looked at living close to open green areas, wasteland or rivers in urban areas.
Scientists have long suggested living near forests is good for you, but the findings are the first to provide physical evidence.
City dwellers are at greater risk of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia than those who reside in the country.
Noise, pollution and the high number of people in the small space of a city can also contribute to chronic stress.
With almost 70 percent of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050, the findings have implications for urban planning.
WHAT DID THE RESEARCHERS SAY?
Lead author Dr Simone Kuhn, of the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, said: ‘Research on brain plasticity supports the assumption the environment can shape brain structure and function.
NATURE’S HEALTH BENEFITS
The findings add to a growing body of evidence that spending time outdoors is linked to an improved mood.
Researchers in March found living closer to open fields reduces the risk of being obese or depressed.
After reviewing hundreds of studies, Institute for European environmental policy scientists claimed it can even slash the chance of an early death by 16 per cent.
While another study in the same month discovered how watching nature documentaries could be a good way to overcome stress.
University of California, Berkeley, researchers found watching small clips of shows such as Planet Earth II boosts people’s emotions of awe, joy and amusement.
‘That is why we are interested in the environmental conditions that may have positive effects on brain development.
‘Studies of people in the countryside have already shown living close to nature is good for their mental health and wellbeing. We therefore decided to examine city dwellers.’
Co-author Ulman Lindenberger, of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, said: ‘Our study investigates the connection between urban planning features and brain health for the first time.’
HOW WAS THE STUDY CARRIED OUT?
In the study, 341 adults aged between 61 to 82 were asked to complete memory and reasoning tests and undergo brain scans.
These were conducted to assess the structure of stress-processing regions in the brain, especially the amygdala.
The data was then combined with information about where the participants lived, and what kind of environment it was.
City dwellers who lived close to a forest were more likely to have a physiologically healthy amygdala structure, suggesting they were better able to cope with stress.
This held true even after the team took into account other influencing factors such as education and income levels.
He added the findings published in Scientific Reports now need to be confirmed with further studies, and in other cities – hopefully, in the near future.