Environmental Neuroscientists Determine Hiking Makes You Smarter!

New research by environmental neuroscientists at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas indicates that hiking does more than just improve your health, it also makes you smarter. This according to an article in the May issue of Backpacker Magazine. The researchers involved in this study hypothesize that exposure to nature causes significant, measurable changes to the brain. Changes that allow clearer thinking, increased ability to focus, while also allowing the opportunity to function at one’s highest cognitive ability.

Environmental neuroscience is an evolving field within environmental psychology which focuses on how our surroundings affect the way our brains work. David Strayer, Ph.D, Paul Atchley and Ruth Ann Atchley are the scientists coordinating this research. The research study involved a pre-nature experience and fourth day in nature experience word association test utilizing adult Outward Bound participants. Results indicated a 50% increase in creative thought! The authors also suggest that the optimum amount of time in nature to achieve the most restoration is approximately three days. After three days, no additional restorative benefits will be obtained.

This links to a research study I initiated last week on the restorative benefits of spending time in nature that focuses on how spending time in nature impacts psychological well-being and stress levels. Participants in my study are completing a pre-nature experience and post-nature experience survey assessing their psychological well-being. We are also collecting participant heart rate and blood pressure readings to determine how spending time in nature is associated with stress levels. If you are interested in learning more about the research study please send me a message.

If spending time in nature does impact cognitive functioning this has implications that touch many fields, including human resource development (HRD). If employees can go out on nature hikes and return smarter, imagine the impact this could have on organizational performance. It is time for organizations to embrace what I refer to as “ECO-HRD”. This is an approach to employee development that utilizes time in nature to improve employee performance, well-being, and yes, intelligence.

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