Walk Through Nature, Your Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Will Thank You


People who live in crowded urban areas are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and mental illness than those who live in more rural, natural spaces. Conversely, it is also accurate to say that stress hormones are lower in people who live near green, open spaces, explains a recent article in The New York Times.

A study that was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences evaluated the effect walking through nature has on the brain. This particular study looked at the connection between going for a walk in nature and “brooding,” a habit the study’s main researcher described as a tendency to mull over all the bad things in life and with ourselves. Not surprisingly, city-dwellers were at a disproportionately higher risk for brooding, which can in some cases lead to acting in aggressive, self-destructive, and even criminal ways.

You almost can’t help but recall Scorsese’s Taxi Driver in which the main character, played by Robert De Niro, suffers a psychological breakdown and eventually goes on a shooting rampage because (at least in part) of the way the city wore on him day in and day out.

Brooding, depression, and related anxiety disorders are commonly associated with increased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain. Therefore, the researchers wanted to measure activity in that particular cortex pre-nature walk and post-nature walk to see what would happen.

Researchers evaluated 38 people who lived in cities and were in relatively good health. The researchers assigned 19 of those people to walk through a quiet, green area on the Stanford campus, while the other 19 were told to take a walk through an area next to a busy highway in Palo Alto.

Researchers found that the brain functions of the people who walked by the highway were unchanged while the brain functions of the people who had walked on campus showed improvement – less activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex than their counterparts.

The study concluded that these results strongly suggest that walking through nature can improve the mood and overall mental wellbeing of people who dwell in busy urban areas, and it can happen almost instantly.

Research is still unclear as to what exactly it is about nature that soothes us, but perhaps for now it is sufficient to know that it helps.

So, what does all of this have to do with criminal defense? In our practice, it’s obvious that there is so much more to people than the crimes they have been accused of committing. Most of the people we represent are decent people who have no or very limited prior contact with the criminal justice system. In most cases, these people need treatment, not harsh sentences.

In our experience, a lot of criminal activity begins with anxiety, depression, and other types of mood disorders. These can lead to abuse of prescription medications, which can in turn lead to alcohol dependency or the abuse of harder drugs such as heroin. Cue drug possession, DUIs, and the like.

If you or someone you care about was recently arrested and needs help, we invite you to contact Koffel Brininger Nesbitt today to discuss your case.