Even solitary philosophizing may prove less amenable to the stroll than we often imagine. For many people, the walk or hike is less an occasion for thought than a respite from it, sometimes a necessary venting of pent-up energy that precisely (like much exercise) lacks the quality of thought.
More to the point, sometimes walking is the burden, not the release. Few characters in literature walk more than Thomas Hardy’s Tess, but she must do so from disadvantage, not in the interests of leisure or spiritualism. The suburban exiles who lack cars and live in districts poorly served by public transit, doggedly covering ground to fetch groceries from the nearest strip mall, are her modern descendants.
Through a controlled experiment, we investigated whether nature experience would influence rumination (repetitive thought focused on negative aspects of the self), a known risk factor for mental illness. Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.
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