Go Green and Beat Brain Fatigue

Every Friday night in summer the mass exodus from the city begins as urbanites head north for some time in nature to relax and ‘recharge’.  It seems instinctual that rejuvenation both physical and mental is best achieved surrounded by green space and now thanks to researchers at Heriot-Watt University and The University of Edinburgh our instincts have been confirmed.

Our “Kingbridge Knowledge Gift” for this week comes from owner, John Abele.

Scientists have known for some time that the brains ability to stay calm and focused is limited and can be overwhelmed when inundated with the noise and chaos of city living.  This inability to focus and forgetfulness that comes from the brain being overwhelmed is known as brain fatigue.  Although the cause of brain fatigue has become common knowledge there hasn’t, until recently, been any credible method to confirm the theory that time spent in green space not only does not induce brain fatigue but can in fact relieve it.

In The New York Times article “Easing Brain Fatigue with a Walk in the Woods” author Gretchen Reynolds summarizes the study originally published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine where researchers attached cutting edge portable Electroencephalograms to 12 healthy adults in order to measure brain wave activity in different environments.

Once outfitted with their portable equipment each subject was sent out for a short walk that would take them through 3 different sections of Edinburgh.  The first half mile took the walkers through a historic shopping district with attractive old buildings and minimal traffic.  The next half mile led through a park like setting with plenty of green space.  Finally, the last leg of the walk took them through a busy industrial area with concrete buildings and heavy vehicle traffic.

The researchers compared the EEG readings for wave patterns related to frustration, mental alertness and calm or meditative.  The results finally confirmed the long standing theory that time spent in green space relieves brain fatigue.

The results consistently demonstrated that when the walkers were in the urbanized areas, particularly the industrial area at the end of the walk, that their brain showed frustration and distraction.  However, while in the park setting brain waves were more meditative and mentally quieter.

Now, mentally quiet does not mean the brain is not engaged, it simply means that the engagement is effortless.  Thus, the brain is not taxed and is able to contemplate and reflect clearly at the same time as opposed to urban environments that consume our brain function preventing us from focusing our attentions effectively elsewhere.

This study suggests that taking a break from work for a walk in the park or even pausing to spend some time looking out the office window at green space is not at all unproductive, in fact quite the opposite.  Taking some time during the day to quiet our brain can serve to prevent brain fatigue and therefore increase our ability to focus and work productively.