Can A Park Reboot Your Brain?

The following article by Jeff Strickler appeared in the StarTribune on April 7, 2013:

Can a park reboot your brain?

Need a quick cure for stress? Head for the nearest park. Even if you only can get close enough for a peek, your brain will thank you.

This came as a surprise to a Scottish company that was testing a portable EEG (electroencephalogram) machine that measures brain-wave activity. In comparing the data that the machines produced, the company realized that every time one of its volunteer testers walked through a park for as little as 10 minutes, their brain waves became calmer and more meditative.

It doesn’t surprise John Erwin, president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and a horticulture professor at the University of Minnesota. Studies done by horticulturists over the past few years have found different ways that foliage affects the people around it.

In one study, just having trees or plants in a persons sight line resulted in a drop in stress hormones, Erwin said. In another study, people who drove to work on a parkway as opposed to a highway scored higher on creativity tests for an hour and a half [after arriving at their destinations]. And hospital patients with access to gardens have been found to recover significantly faster.

The portable EEG findings, reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, aren’t definitive because there were only 12 people in the test group and the study focused on how the machines were functioning, not the volunteers. But it still was enough for the researchers to conclude this has implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment.

Minneapolis is way ahead of the curve. When the park system was laid out 130 years ago, city planners wanted to ensure that every citizen was within walking distance of green space. To this day, no home in the city is more than six blocks from a city park.

Parks have a clear physical, mental and emotional impact on people, Erwin said.