New research from Germany suggests that living near a forested area has a positive impact on an important part of the brain, the amygdala, as Tom Jacobs reported for YES! Magazine. The amygdala is the almond-shaped set of neurons that plays a key role in the processing of emotions such as fear and anxiety.
In its study of elderly urban residents, published in Scientific Reports in September 2017, a research team led by Simone Kuehn of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, found that living near a forested area is linked with a healthy functioning amygdala. When compared with those who live in man-made environments, people who live on the border between a city and forest are more able to effectively cope with stress.
Researchers analyzed data from 341 participants in the Berlin Aging Study II. The participants were between the ages of 61 and 82 and all lived in the city. Researchers found that many lived on the outskirts of the city, near forested areas and noted the amount of forest land within a kilometer radius of each participant’s home address. Then they looked at “three different indicators of brain structural integrity,” each of which provided “distinct information” on several key areas of the brain.
The results revealed a significant positive association between the amount of forest land and an improved state of the amygdala. The findings suggest that “forests in and around cities are a valuable resource that should be promoted.” By contrast, Kuehn and her team of researchers found no positive association from living close to urban green spaces such as parks or near bodies of water. They found that only living near forest land produced such positive effects.
Researchers mention that there is a possibility that people with an already-healthy amygdala choose to live near forests; but based on previous studies, that is probably not likely. The study adds to the already strong psychological evidence of the benefits of living close to nature. Such research has linked living near green spaces to living longer, lower levels of aggression, improved cognitive development in children and reinforcing better moods in people.
Kuehn suggests that more research will be needed to confirm that forest land has a greater impact on human brain health than other forms of nature do. However, the research conducted points to the positive benefits of surrounding yourself with trees and wild nature.
Source: Tom Jacobs, “New Study Links Living Near Forests to Healthier Brains,” YES! Magazine, November 30, 2017, http://www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/new-study-links-living-near-forests-to-healthier-brains-20171130.
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