A recent article by Kurt Beil in the November 2015 edition of the Natural Medicine Journal looks at the impact walking in nature versus walking in the city can have on mental rumination. The article looks at a small group field study (38 people, average age 26 years) that took place in Palo Alto, California.
Half of the participants did a 5.3 km walk on their own in the city and the other half in a nature park. Participants completed a questionnaire (measuring mental rumination) and an MRI both before and after the walk. The MRI specifically measured subgenual prefrontal cortex neural activity - increased activity in this area is seen with sadness, social withdrawal, and negative self reflection all of which are linked to rumination.
Interestingly, post walk, the nature park walking participants were found to have significantly lower questionnaire scores (indicating less rumination) and significantly decreased activity on MRI than they did pre walk. In comparison, the city walking participants' questionnaire scores and MRI activity were unchanged from post walk to pre walk.
I do think walking anywhere brings positive benefits to us on many levels, but this study highlights the importance of aiming to include nature based walks in our regular routine as well. As a city dog walker, most of my walking is in the neighbourhood I live in, but with the info from this study, I am hoping to go for nature walks on a more regular basis as well in 2016.