Time outside can boost brain function and well-being, study finds

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Experts encourage consumers to get outdoors to improve their moods

A new study conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development explored the brain benefits associated with spending time outdoors. 

According to their findings, fresh air can have powerful effects on consumers’ overall well-being. Regularly spending time outside can boost consumers’ moods, improve cognitive function, and even help memory abilities. 

“Our results show that our brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors,” said researcher Simone Kühn. “This most likely affects concentration, working memory, and the psyche as a whole. We are investigating this in an ongoing study.” 

Getting outdoors matters

For the study, the researchers followed six healthy adults over the course of six months. The participants were regularly scanned via an MRI machine to analyze their brain function. They also reported on their lifestyle habits, including physical activity, time spent outside, and caffeine and fluid intake. The team paid particular attention to how the brain responded to time outdoors. 

Ultimately, time spent outside was associated with better brain outcomes. The researchers learned that being outdoors was associated with more gray matter in the brain’s prefrontal cortex; not only is this part of the brain responsible for our cognitive functioning, but lower levels of gray matter have been previously linked with mental health concerns. 

The researchers say consumers can improve their moods, cognitive abilities, and have better overall brain function by spending more time outdoors. These findings held up regardless of any of the potentially influential factors that might impact brain function, including caffeine intake and physical activity. 

The researchers hope these findings can help improve consumers’ mental health going forward. They say encouraging consumers to spend more time outside may even be helpful in maintaining certain mental health disorders. 

“These findings provide neuroscientific support for the treatment of mental disorders,” said researcher Anna Mascherek. “Doctors could prescribe a walk in the fresh air as part of the therapy -- similar to what is customary for health cures.” 

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