This summer, in addition to interning with Outdoorosity, I am interning at the Peace Center for the Performing Arts in Greenville, South Carolina, helping with its continuing education program for teachers. As a teacher-in-training, I welcome the opportunity to interact with teachers and learn more in my field. The work is invigorating, educational and inspiring. As with any job, however, I find myself worn out and wound up at the end of the work-day. This summer, though, one simple factor changes all that. By the time I arrive home, I am refreshed, invigorated, and relaxed.
At first, I couldn’t put my finger on what was different about my routine. Then I realized that it was all due to parking. Yes, parking. The lot where I park requires that I walk through Falls Park across the Liberty-Bridge, suspended over a 28-foot natural waterfall in downtown Greenville. The bridge is surrounded by walking trails and beautiful trees, shrubs, and flowers. At the beginning of my seven-minute walk to my car, I felt the same as after the end of any ordinary work-day. At the end, however, I realized that I felt refreshed and renewed. Could a seven-minute walk through the park really make such an enormous difference?
It turns out, it can. Science supports the nature-brain connection. My research revealed a number of articles that discuss the power of time spent in nature to support mental health. For example, a recent article describes a study done by Gregory Bratman and his colleagues at Stanford University. The article reported that participants in the study who walked through a lush, green portion of Stanford’s campus were “more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.”
The article reported that Bratman and his colleagues later expanded upon this study and found that spending more time in nature was associated with less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex in the brain. This area of the brain is related to depression and brooding. The study found that participants who walked for 90 minutes through a lush, green portion of Stanford’s campus had less blood flow to this part of the brain than those who walked along a busy road in the same area.
As a teacher-in-training, I am fascinated by ways that the environment can positively impact the brain. I realized that my seven-minute walk through Falls Park plays a vital role in releasing tension and improving my outlook. Quite simply, my walk through the park makes me a happier person. And for me, that’s seven minutes very well spent. Even after my internship ends, I’ll be sure and look for other ways to incorporate nature into my day. Even more importantly, I’ll look for ways to use what I learned to impact my future students. Stay tuned!
Written by Maddy Gentry