Living in a City May Be Bad for Your Brain—but There’s a Way to Fix That

Man on phone in the city street
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Getting out in the forest, enjoying the trees and nature, breathing in fresh, clear air—it sounds nice, doesn’t it?

So it’s no surprise, then, that multiple studies suggest getting out for a walk in the woods is good for your health. In ultra-urbanized Japan, there’s even a word for it: shinrin-yoku, roughly translated as “forest bathing,” which basically involves wandering through the woods and engaging in mindfulness. It sounds crazy, but it may significantly lower blood pressure, according to a 2011 study. And simply living near nature or in the countryside has also been shown to have health benefits.

On the flip side, residing in a city has been found to shift your amygdala (the brain area that processes stressful situations and dangerous circumstances) into overdrive. The only time that changes? City dwellers who live near forests have much healthier amygdalas, which indicates that they should be able to cope with stress better, according to a new study from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany.

The study was the first to look at the connection between the urban environment and how it can affect brain health. Another interesting factor: Living near forests extended benefits to all kinds of people, regardless of economic status and education level.

“Research on brain plasticity supports the assumption that the environment can shape brain structure and function,” said study head author Simone Kühn, Ph.D., a researcher at the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the institute. “That is why we are interested in the environmental conditions that may have positive effects on brain development.”

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