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Take Your Brain for a Walk

Your brain wears a suit of armor and I am not talking about your skull. As you go through the day your brain works hard to protect your focus and attention from other things that could distract you. If your brain couldn’t do this, instead of focusing, you would be distracted by everything from dust to racing thoughts of tomorrow. Maybe this happens to you already and it has led you down the inevitable path of asking yourself “What is wrong with me?”. The answer is very likely, nothing.  Your brain is probably just tired.

At some point your brain gets fatigued by being bombarded with and blocking out information all day and it simply needs some rest before you can both keep going. The term “information overload” is not just a casual one or an excuse that people use for not paying attention, although they might, it can be a real signal that the brain needs a break. More appropriately said the brain needs a break from directing it’s attention to one single focused task. So how does a brain take a break?

Get outside. Taking your brain for a walk will help it recompose before going back inside to pay attention to your math teacher, your customers or any other challenging and important task you have at hand. Taking a walk in the fresh air is good alone but taking your brain for a walk in a park or area where you can find trees and green things growing is even better. Areas with more natural features create a restorative environment that not only fills your lungs with fresh air but also allows your brain to relax.

You probably have experienced a few times what a handful of scientists are confirming with research. To explore the idea of nature nourishing our attention span, scientists followed people who spent two weeks in the wilderness through a program called Outward Bound. I personally know somebody who told me that this program changed his life. This Outward Bound study led the scientists to define nature as a restorative environment after hearing several reports of “feeling at peace” and “having a mind that is more clear”. Aren’t a little peace and a clear head two things we strive for in life? The Outward Bound program does take place in wilderness which is unavailable to most of us on a daily basis. But what if you could have more peace by taking a walk in the park? Would you take more walks? This is a question a different scientist explored through a study he conducted under more “normal” conditions for the average person. He assigned test subjects a 40 minute organizational task to really drain their brain and then randomly assigned them to take a break doing one of three things: relax with magazines and music, go walking in the park, or go walking in an urban area. After break time everyone was given a proofreading test. Those who were lucky enough to be assigned a walk in the park did better on the proofreading test than those who walked in the city or read magazines and listened to music. Walking in the park can help improve test scores! Those that walked in the park also felt better too. Listening to music and reading sounds good to me but when it comes down to it, a dose of nature does the brain, and body good.

Maybe you can’t get to the park everyday but get there at least a couple times a week. Until then how can we work to make our neighborhoods be more park like? A sure sign of a park is its big and flourishing trees. If you have trees pay attention to them and find out what you can do to help them flourish.

Nature is everywhere- Take your brain for a walk in the park or any other area you know of with lots of leafy green trees.

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