Fascinating new research shows that even the briefest of moments spent in nature and away from our mobile phones, I-Pads and laptops can have a dramatic and positive impact on our brain health.
Parents and teachers have told us this for years is but now it is official, being present and aware in the great outdoors, even if only for short periods of time, is good for our overall brain health. But in order to benefit fully from Mother Nature’s bounty, make sure you leave your mobile phones, laptops or other technological gadgets and gizmos at home.
In our always on, 24 seven, go go-go world, we now find ourselves almost continuously attached to our technological devices. Like the umbilical cords we were attached to in our mothers’ wombs, we find it almost impossible to leave these devices at home and actually enjoy the world around us as nature intended. Recent research studies using the remote associates brain health test for example have shown that taking a short walk in the park, without looking down at the screen in your hand can significantly improve the responsiveness of your brain. The key here is to remember that it is not just the exercise that is important for your brain health but the simple act of engaging with the outside world in an active not passive way .
The Outward Bound Association of America used a well-known tool that measures and quantifies creative thinking called The Remote Associates Test to take a sample of 60 backpackers into the wilderness where they spent a total of four days without any access to the kinds of mobile phones, laptops or any other kinds of electronic devices that typically accompany us all where ever we go. These backpackers then took a multi-part creativity questionnaire at the start and end of their technologically free adventure in nature .The results were surprising – On average they got four out of ten questions right at the start and six to eight questions correct at the end of the hike.
Brain Health and Our Environment – It’s A Question of Survival
In another recent study, neuroscientists from Illinois University were able to demonstrate how being connected to our natural environment is essential to not just our physical health but our physiological and psychological well-being. It is thought that the reason why our connection with nature is so important to our mental and physical well-being is that because we are essentially animals we evolved to survive, reproduce and try in often hostile surroundings. Our senses and our sense of survival therefore are connected and it is nature that is the common factor in this. What we have seen in the past 30 or 40 years is a significant shift away from surviving in the countryside or in nature, to a more urban and less ‘natural’ way of life.
In fact a geopolitical analysis conducted by the world health organisation in 2007 estimated that for the first time ever more than 50% of the planet’s population were living in urban environments and in exactly the same way as wild animals deteriorates mentally when removed from their natural habitats and placed in zoos for example so too does the mental state of human beings deteriorate while living in urban environments. The situation becomes more complicated when you add our increasing over-reliance on technology which means that we now effectively switch ourselves off from the environment around us (the natural or urban) making our brains repeatedly less able to respond to the necessary adaptive changes required.
Brain Health Means No More Multi – Tasking and Leave Your Mobile At Home
Having said this all is not lost and both the studies highlighted above and demonstrated that even the smallest amount of natural activity, when done with the spirit of mindfulness and awareness (that is without the temptation of using mobile phones and laptops) can significantly improve our brain health for the long-term. The key is to train ourselves to become less reliant or in the devices that are supposed to free us and to spend more time actually ‘present’ in the world around us.
Just 30 min of playing outdoors instead of sitting now in front of a television set is been shown in a number of American studies to significantly improve the brain processing quality of children and young adults. Additionally it has been shown that supposes skills like multitasking (which have been seen to be a positive benefit in this competitive world) actually cause the brain to become less responsive and has been directly linked to increases in our inability to focus and concentrate for long periods of time.
Sam Jansen is a leading brain scientist, lawyer and author, studying neuroscience, social behaviours and the science of happiness.You can find him at Google+