Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘emotional health

Walking in Nature Changes the Brain: Explain why

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear.

Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?

That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living.

In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.

But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature.

So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person’s tendency to brood.

Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives.

This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.

Perhaps most interesting for the purposes of Mr. Bratman and his colleagues, such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the sub-genual prefrontal cortex.

If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people’s minds.

Mr. Bratman and his colleagues first gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.

The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer’s subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain.

Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas. (Not in a relaxed state)

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto.

The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

These results “strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments” could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers, Mr. Bratman

Many questions remain, including how much time in nature is sufficient or ideal for our mental health, as well as what aspects of the natural world are most soothing. (Performance issues)

Is it the greenery, quiet, sunniness, loamy smells, all of those, or something else that lifts our moods?

Do we need to be walking or otherwise physically active outside to gain the fullest psychological benefits? Should we be alone or could companionship amplify mood enhancements?

“There’s a tremendous amount of study that still needs to be done,” Mr. Bratman said.

But in the meantime, he pointed out, there is little downside to strolling through the nearest park, and some chance that you might beneficially muffle, at least for awhile, your subgenual prefrontal cortex.

Andrew Bossone shared this link on Jyly 23, 2015

An explanation for people in Beirut:

Urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.”

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health.
well.blogs.nytimes.com|By Gretchen Reynolds

Emotional health in childhood ? And what happiness has to do with economists?

Mick Jagger famously couldn’t get it, but now economists think they know what’s required to get some satisfaction.

Are money, success and good grades less important than emotional health? Is this what LSE study says?

After investigating the factors in a person’s life that can best predict whether they will lead satisfied lives, a team headed by one of the UK’s foremost “happiness” experts, Professor Richard Layard, has come up with an answer that may prove controversial.

, The Observer,  November 8, 2014

Emotional health in childhood ‘is the key to future happiness’

Layard and his colleagues at the Wellbeing research programme at the London School of Economics’ Centre for Economic Performance conclude that a child’s emotional health is far more important to their satisfaction levels as an adult than other factors, such as if they achieve academic success when young, or wealth when older.

The authors explain that evaluating the quality of a child’s emotional health is based on analysing a range of internal factors in a person’s early life, including whether they endured unhappiness, sleeplessness, eating disorders, bedwetting, fearfulness or tiredness.

Lord Richard Layard, who is emeritus professor of economics at the LSE.

Lord Richard Layard, who is emeritus professor of economics at the LSE.

Photograph: Linda Nylind/Observer

The academics claim that their study, “What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life-course Model of Well-being“, published in the latest edition of the Economic Journal, offers “a completely new perspective on which factors contribute most to a satisfying life”.

The study claims to challenge “the basic assumption of educational policy in recent years – that academic achievement matters more than anything else”. This claim appears to be an implicit criticism of former education secretary Michael Gove, who instructed schools not to focus on “peripheral” issues such as children’s moral, social and cultural development in favour of academic excellence.

Gove’s successor, Nicky Morgan, has pledged to reverse this approach.

Layard and his team analysed data from about 9,000 people who were born over a three-week period in 1970 and then tracked by the British Cohort Survey, a study that asks them to complete an extensive questionnaire about their lives every five to seven years. They were also asked to rate their satisfaction at key periods through their lives.

The team then examined factors including their income, educational achievement, employment, whether they had been in trouble with the law, whether they were single, as well as their physical and emotional health – to gauge how significant these were in determining satisfaction. In addition, a range of factors that affect a child’s development – for example, intellectual performance, family socio-economic background and emotional health were also examined.

Many people have assumed income is the most important factor in an adult’s life satisfaction. But the academics say their data makes clear this is far less important than emotional health – both in a child and in an adult. “Income only explains about 1% of the variation in life satisfaction among people in the UK – one sixth of the fraction explained by emotional health,” they note. Or, to put it another way, money really cannot buy you happiness.

The findings are controversial. As one of Layard’s colleagues, Andew E Clark, notes in an accompanying paper, the suggestion that “education and income are among the least important determinants of adult success, as measured by life satisfaction … risks provoking outrage among some.”

But the economics of happiness or wellbeing is now a growing and respected discipline within economics that is starting to influence politicians.

David Cameron has stated: “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general well-being.”

The findings raise questions about the extent to which intervening in a child’s life will pay dividends later on.

Child interventions can produce massive savings to public finances but these are often at a much later date,” the authors note.

They conclude: “By far the most important predictor of adult life-satisfaction is emotional health, both in childhood and subsequently. We find that the intellectual performance of a child is the least important childhood predictor of life-satisfaction as an adult.”

Note: It would be interesting to find out what are the criteria for emotional health and the questions the team had in mind to refer to emotional health.

In any case, questionnaires are Not good indicators to anything for many flaws and subjective rating. Only direct observations can generate worthy data for analysis.

One more question: From what class of people this survey sampled? Apparently, the subjects must have come from relatively well-to-do family for them to disregard money to having any effect on their emotional state.


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