Public parks good for brain health of city dwellers
This morning while listening to my usual morning radio program (WNYC’s “The Takeaway,” which you should listen to and support), I was reminded of my weekend visit to the Central Park Zoo during a segment entitled “Walking Makes You Smart” [listen to podcast] The piece was about the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. Living in a metropolis like New York City requires a lot of cognitive processing for focused attention during typical urban interactions with crosswalks, cars, annoyingly slow-walking tourists, crowded subways, demanding obsessive-compulsive bosses and the like. Walking in nature, by contrast, tends to be characterized by flow-like mental states where our attention wanders.
The piece on today’s Takeaway was a bit of a retread of a recent article that appeared in the New York Times’ wellness blog entitled “Natural Settings Help Brain Fatigue,” which itself was linked to an earlier article, also in the Times, about using natural settings to help kids with ADHD. The articles and the piece on today’s Takeaway present the question: do we suffer the more distant we become from nature?
I would intuitively say “yes,” but then again, I’m a nature girl at heart. I have covered this up with a mostly black and grey wardrobe, Gold Medal-worthy skills of navigating city grates on stilettos, and all manner of urban idiosyncrasy, but at heart, I love the outdoors, animals, and the present-mindedness that comes with being close to the Earth (physically or psychically). It’s fodder for another post, or perhaps the research dollars of some evolutionary psychologist, but would the CAT scans of people living in highly congested urban areas, say Mumbai or Hong Kong, differ from those living in more bucolic places?
I’ll spend some time with Google looking into this (I’m sure this research already exists), but in the meantime, I’ll vouch for my own anecdotal experience, which says “a day at the park refreshes.” My afternoon in the rain at the zoo seems to have cleared out some mental gunk. While I’m not necessarily closer to any answers, I’m at least asking far better questions, and that’s a start.