Is stress wrecking your health? Study says living close to a forest may be the cure | fitness | Hindustan Times
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Is stress wrecking your health? Study says living close to a forest may be the cure

New European research suggests that living near nature can has a positive effect on the brains of city dwellers and especially on the amygdala, a part of the brain important for processing stress.

fitness Updated: Oct 17, 2017 08:45 IST
The team found that city dwellers who lived close to a forest were more likely to have a physiologically healthy amygdala structure, suggesting that they were better able to cope with stress.
The team found that city dwellers who lived close to a forest were more likely to have a physiologically healthy amygdala structure, suggesting that they were better able to cope with stress.(Shutterstock)

It is already known that city dwellers are at a higher risk of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, and have higher activity levels in the amygdala -- a part of the brain important in processing stress and reactions to danger.

A study, carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany, found that being close to nature has a positive effect on our brains. Noise, pollution, and the high number of people in the small space of a city are also contributing factors to chronic stress.

“Research on brain plasticity supports the assumption that the environment can shape brain structure and function,” explained first author Simone Kühn, “Studies of people in the countryside have already shown that living close to nature is good for their mental health and well-being. We therefore decided to examine city dwellers.”

For the study Kühn and her team looked at 341 adults aged 61 to 82. The participants were asked to complete memory and reasoning tests and undergo MRI scans to assess the structure of stress-processing brain regions, especially the amygdala.

Noise, pollution, and the high number of people in the small space of a city are also contributing factors to chronic stress. (Shutterstock)

The MRI data was then combined with geoinformation on the participants’ places of residence in order to examine the influence of nature close to peoples’ homes on these brain regions.

The team found that city dwellers who lived close to a forest were more likely to have a physiologically healthy amygdala structure, suggesting that they were better able to cope with stress.

This findings still held true even after the team took into account other influencing factors such as education and income levels. However, they were unable to find an association between the brain regions examined in the study and urban green, water, or wasteland.

The team commented that at the moment it is not possible to determine whether living close to a forest has positive effects on the amygdala, or whether people with a healthier amygdala are more likely to choose to live in an urban area close to a forest.

However, based on their present knowledge they believe the first explanation is more probable. With almost 70% of the world population expected to be living in cities by 2050, the team also suggested that the results could therefore be important for urban planning. However, they added that the findings would need to be confirmed with further studies and in other cities.

The findings can be found published online in the journal Scientific Reports.