We’ve all heard our parents yell at us to spend some time outdoors instead of being cooped up at home all day. But do we actually feel better outside compared to the comfort of our couch?
Time recently revealed that going outside does change the way our brain works, but not in the ways we expect.
Research led by Kyle Mathewson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alberta in Canada, found that the brain behaves differently depending on the external stimuli it receives. For example, taking a nice slow stroll in the park will differ from walking down a busy street sidewalk.
The study gave participants a simple task to perform while outside, and the results showed that most had difficulty completing it due to other factors affecting their attention.
“[T]here are traffic sounds, and the sights of traffic, and all these people around you, and trees and birds and the wind and the cold,” Mathewson says. “All these extra sensations are kind of competing with the task that you’re doing.”
While it seems negative at first, past studies have supported the theory that you will gain several mental health benefits from spending time outdoors in nature. Mathewson clarifies that “[g]oing outside in this case might have appeared bad because we went outside beside busy traffic.” He also states that more studies have to be done to truly understand how outdoor activity affects the brain.
Basically, if you want to get some fresh air, please don’t go down to a crowded and noisy shopping district. It won’t do your brain much good.
By Gilbert Wong, Men’s Health Content Producer