This Is Your Brain On Nature

Aug 14, 2015 1 Min Read


How much time do you spend outdoors? John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” Good advice.

Spending time with nature is good for your brain. Consider this: Why would similar hospital patients just a few rooms apart recover at different rates?

It turned out that some rooms faced a brick wall, while others faced a small stand of deciduous trees. Other than that, the rooms were identical.

When the researcher at Paoli Memorial Hospital looked at patient recovery charts, he was struck by how much better the patients fared when their rooms looked out onto a natural setting.

Those who faced a brick wall needed a full extra day of recovery time. They were also more depressed, and experienced more pain.

Plenty of studies show similar results and the effects are large. It seems that grass and trees are good for your brain. Why?

Many of us love urban environments. Architecture has is its own beauty. Nature, though, seems to have a unique restorative effect on our brains.

William James noted that there are two types of human attention: directed attention and involuntary attention.

Your brain is engaged in directed attention when you are driving your car, reading a book, writing, negotiating a crowded sidewalk, etc.

Involuntary attention is what happens when your brain is in nature. Your attention wanders freely in a non-directed way. This mental meandering seems to restore mental function.

Directed attention depletes. Involuntary attention restores. The Japanese have a name for this: shinrin-yoku – the natural therapy of forest bathing.

A great book to read on the brain benefits of being in nature is Your Brain on Nature by Eva Selhub. Also, The Nature Principle by Richard Louv.

I love setting my office up outside, going for walks, cycling, gardening, and hiking. I always seem to do my best thinking outdoors.

How about you? Spending time outside gives your brain a chance to “carry out the neural trash”, dial down stress, and recover. Try to find the time.

Yes, you are busy, but don’t be like the woodcutter who would not take time to take a break and sharpen the axe.

Here is a suggestion: Maybe set a goal of 20 minutes a day to be in a natural setting. Call it your “20-minute vacation”. Leave your smartphone at home.

Your brain will thank you by being happier, and more relaxed. Research says you may even lower your blood pressure, pulse rate, and cortisol levels. One more thing: When you engage in involuntary attention, your directed attention gets better.

Terry Small is a brain expert who resides in Canada and believes that anyone can learn how to learn easier, better, faster, and that learning to learn is the most important skill a person can acquire. To connect with Terry, write to For more Brain Bulletin articles, click here.

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Lay Hsuan was part of the content curation team for, playing the role of a content gatekeeper as well as ensuring the integrity of stories that came in. She was an occasional writer for the team and was previously the caretaker for Leaderonomics social media channels. She is still happiest when you leave comments on the website, or subscribe to Leader's Digest, or share Leaderonomics content on social media.

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