Get Outside and Improve Your Mental Health

As the weather starts to cool off and fall seems just around the corner (I know, I'm not ready either), I reflect on what I love about summer. The nice weather, being outside and greenery always come to mind as some of the highlights of the season. This article recently published by The New York Times summarize a study done at Stanford University exploring the benefits of nature on our brain functioning and mental health.

In this study, participants completed a questionnaire targeted at assessing rumination, and a brain scan. Rumination is the feeling of dwelling on negative aspects of our selves and our lives, and is often a precursor to depression. Participants then went for a 90 minute walk, either through a quiet, tree lined part of campus, or by the highway on the edge of campus. They were allowed to walk at their own pace, but had to walk alone without music or other distractions. 

After the walks, participants repeated the brain scans and questionnaires. The researchers found small but significant differences between the groups. The groups that walked by the highway did not demonstrate changes in mental health or brain activity. The participants who walked through the trees demonstrated positive changes on the rumination questionnaire, and had less blood flow to an area of the brain called the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area involved in controlling rumination. The walk through the trees seemed to make a positive difference on their mental state.

The experimenters note that more research needs to be done in this topic to better understand what exactly is happening here, but the phenomenon of gaining mental health from being in nature may be familiar to many of us.


We think there are great implications for the workplace from this article and have a few suggestions on increasing your exposure to nature at work:

1. Locate an area near your office with trees or plants. In downtown Toronto, there are many small green spaces peppered around the city - find one near you and make it your lunch time destination or a place you head for a 10 minute break. 

2. Get a plant for your desk or workspace. Speak with your manager on getting some for the whole office. 

3. Make time for nature after work - spend your time off in nature as much as possible; take advantage of your city's parks and green spaces, or if you are lucky enough to have a backyard, spend as much time out there as possible! 

With the summer months sadly coming to a close, make an effort in the next little while to maximize your time in green space while we can! Do you have any other tips for getting access to green space at work? Any favourite spots you have near your office? Please share in the comments below.