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benefits of being outdoors

Being Outdoors Literally Changes Your Brain

The brain acts much differently when we’re outdoors, compared to when we’re inside a lab, a new study has found.

“Something about being outdoors changes brain activity,” said Joanna Scanlon, the study’s lead author.

Scanlon’s research team put EEG equipment into backpacks, which were worn by subjects as they performed a standard neuroscience task while riding a bike outdoors. The task involved identifying pitch changes in a series of beeps. They then compared the results to data from the same experiment on stationary bikes inside their lab. Their findings were published in a special edition of the journal Brain Research.

“In addition to dividing attention between the task and riding a bike, we noticed that brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions,” Scanlon said.

In other words, our brains process sounds, sights, and other stimuli differently when we’re spending time outdoors. It’s not a particularly surprising finding, given that research has suggested for years that time spent in nature can have a range of physical benefits — from increased vitamin D, to increased concentration to faster healing. But there’s more to it than simply explaining the inner workings behind the health benefits of being outdoors. Scanlon says the finding could change the way scientists look for solutions to real world problems.

“If we want to apply these findings to solve issues in our society, we need to ensure that we understand how the brain works out in the world where humans actually live, work, and play,” said Kyle Mathewson, a University of Alberta neuroscientist who led the study. Almost everything we know about the human brain is learned from studies in very tightly controlled environments, Mathewson explained.

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