Spending time outdoors can benefit your brain, study confirms

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In a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, researchers found that regularly out in the fresh air is good for both your well-being and your brain.

During the pandemic, walks became a popular and regular pastime. The study suggests that this habit has a good effect not only on our general well-being but also on our brain structure.

It shows that the human brain benefits from even short stays outdoors. Until now, it was assumed that environments affect us only over longer periods of time.

In the study, the team regularly examined six healthy, middle-aged city dwellers for six months. In total, more than 280 scans were taken of their brains using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The focus of the study was on self-reported behavior during the last 24 hours and in particular on the hours that participants spent outdoors prior to imaging.

In addition, they were asked about their fluid intake, consumption of caffeinated beverages, the amount of time spent outside, and physical activity, in order to see if these factors altered the association between time spent outside and the brain.

In order to be able to include seasonal differences, the duration of sunshine in the study period was also taken into account.

Brain scans show that the time spent outdoors by the participants was positively related to gray matter in the right dorsolateral–prefrontal cortex, which is the superior (dorsal) and lateral part of the frontal lobe in the cerebral cortex.

This part of the cortex is involved in the planning and regulation of actions as well as what is referred to as cognitive control.

In addition, many psychiatric disorders are known to be linked to a reduction in gray matter in the prefrontal area of the brain.

The results persisted even when the other factors that could also explain the relationship between time spent outdoors and brain structure were kept constant.

The researchers performed statistical calculations in order to examine the influence of sunshine duration, the number of hours of free time, physical activity, and fluid intake on the results.

The calculations revealed that time spent outdoors had a positive effect on the brain regardless of the other influencing factors.

The results show that the brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors. This most likely also affects concentration, working memory, and the psyche as a whole.

The results, therefore, support the previously assumed positive effects of walking on health and extend them by the concrete positive effects on the brain.

Because most psychiatric disorders are associated with deficits in the prefrontal cortex, this is of particular importance to the field of psychiatry.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about major surgery linked to small, long-term brain function decline and findings of Alzheimer’s drug may reverse brain damage from alcohol drinking.

For more information about brain disease, please see recent studies about plant-based diets may worsen this brain problem and results showing that drinking tea may improve your brain health.

The study is published in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry. One author of the study is Simone Kühn.

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