How hiking makes you smarter

Take some time for a walk in the park. The research supports the value of certain kinds of fun time.science-tutor-grade

A recent study was conducted at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

Earlier, related research found that people who live near forested areas have lower levels of cortisol, a harmful stress hormone. People with attention deficit disorders demonstrate improved concentration after spending time around trees.

But the latest research was the first to provide real-time data. Young adults were fitted with portable electroencephalograms. Then they were asked to take a walk in a park, a quiet urban neighborhood, and a busy city center.

No doubt the site of grown men and women with wires coming out of their heads raised the stress levels of many onlookers. But the subjects walking in the park reached a peaceful mental state that psychologists call “effortless attention.”

A mind in this state is able to process a lot of information without fatigue. This is an optimum state of mind for studying, and that's where time in nature really pays off. The more time a child spends in “effortless attention,” the easier it is to attain this state of mind at will.

The implications of this research are encouraging. Whenever you take your kids camping, hiking, on a picnic or a retreat, you're teaching them how to muster effortless attention. You get to spend more quality time with your children, everyone has fun, and you're actually increasing the capacity to learn.

Best of all, you don't have to glue a bunch of wires in your hair. The good folks in Edinburgh have already done that part for you.

If you're interested, you can read about the original research here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23467965

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