Next time you take a walk to clear your head at work, avoid the noisy, congested streets and head for the nearest park. Time spent in nature may improve memory and attention, even in people with clinical depression, according to a new study.
The current study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, followed a similar method to one from 2008 that showed that a one-hour walk in a woodland park improved memory and attention. This time, researchers focused on people with clinical depression.
After a short walk in nature, participants showed a 16 percent increase in both attention and working memory, compared to people who walked in a “busy urban environment.”
There was, however, no difference in mood changes between the urban and natural settings. In both cases, negative mood decreased, and positive mood increased.
Why does memory help you focus and remember? As you walk down a busy street, you are bombarded by sights, sounds, and smells—people, cars, buildings, advertisements, food cooking. This sensory information drains the parts of your brain involved in memory and attention.
Researchers suggest that being surrounded by nature—or viewing pictures of nature, as done in the previous study—helps the brain relax, and restores these mental capacities.
Walking in nature is not meant to replace existing treatments for clinical depression, but may be able to supplement them by improving both memory and attention.