Good Medicine, A Stroll In The Park

In our rushed and busy lives who has time to contemplate nature? We live in big urban centers, rush to work, rush home to do household chores and many of us even go to a second job in order to pay the bills and have some extra money.

A study, just published in Psychological Science, reported on a piece of research conducted at the University of Michigan. In the study, subjects were asked to study numbers which they had to remember and repeat backwards sometime later. They were then asked to participate in one of two activities. Some of the subjects walked through an arboretum while others walked through city streets. What were the results of the study?

You probably guessed that the students who walked through the arboretum performed better on the memory test than those who walked through city streets. In fact, in another experiment, even those who viewed pictures of nature versus pictures of urban centers performed better on memory tests. Why?

The explanation seems to go back to that early psychological writer, William James. He theorized that there are two types of attention, "involuntary attention," and "directed attention."

In directed attention, a lot of effort is put into doing a task such as memorizing numbers in the experiment. Involuntary attention is relaxed as exemplified by the walk in the arboretum. The participants rated the experience as very pleasant as opposed to those who walked through city streets.

After having memorized the list of numbers, the people who walked through the arboretum were able to be very relaxed. They did not have to make any effort at focusing attention.

According to the researchers, involuntary attention used in the arboretum, preserved lots of energy necessary for the memory test ahead. For those who walked through the urban center, directed attention continued to be used because of all the distracting stimuli surrounding a noisy and busy urban center. In other words, the extraneous stimuli competed for their cognitive and mental energies, resulting in a depletion of energy needed for the memory test.

The researchers conclude that it is healthy to take time out for a walk in the park. Nature is relaxing and actually frees up psychic energy for things that have to be done later in the day. It is important to view this as a good investment. The time spent on a leisurely walk in the woods pays dividends later on in increased energy and decreased stress. That is why parks such as Central Park in New York are so very important. It is instructive and interesting to notice the numbers of people relaxing in the park during the middle of the work week and day. They may not know it consciously, but, that lunch break lounging on the grass on the Great Lawn is time very well spent.

So, even if you are very busy, even if you are at work, even if you have children at home for whom you are responsible, go out to the park for a stroll. It will help you perform better at work as opposed to staying at your desk during lunch. Or, pack up the kids and take all of you to the park and enjoy the stroll together.

Got nothing to do during the weekend? Go to the park, take that stroll, enjoy nature, its the best anti depressant.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.


  • JR

    One of our most beautiful, and well-maintained parks happens to be on my walking route into the office. I try, whenever I can, to call in and sit down for a few minutes - really helps me to "ground" for the day.

    I would say that the "built environment" also has its points. When I am walking through the streets, I try as far as I can to look up. As with many European cities, a lot of the ground level is defaced by the usual commercial dross. But above, much of the beauty of older building survives. I think it is really a matter of being aware. There is, of course, process - but there is also Being. Being has much to be said for it ...

    Best regards,


  • willy

    Striding along the high ridge, over tundra streaked with rushing streams, I feel utterly free. For a moment life is as endless as the azure sky. I cross a wildflower meadow, the colors of crushed rainbows. Bending low, I drink from a splashing spring that chills my teeth and awakens my tongue. At a precipice further down the slope I gaze at an alpine lake below, watching the wind swirling the sunlit water. The air in my lungs is as fresh as the sounding cascade. On such a day as this, it is easy to celebrate each moment, even as I regret its passing, as if it were a diamond slipping through my fingers. At the end of the day, my hand will be empty. But my heart will be full. --T.A.B.

  • lee du ploy

    We live and work in Hong Kong, a city mad for new things be it bags,phones or whateverr,here if you don't have you don't belong.Interesting to see young girls send a months salary on a handbag,struggling by on high heels and glasses too big for them( who told them they look good)

    The assumption that you have achieved or arrived by buying more things is only ballanced by the madness of earning more,the quest for better living standard are over shadowed by the dodging and boxing that goes on.Its not uncommon for "lap sap" garbage ladies of an undeterminate age to gather in front of the banks to watch the screens reveal the stock prices.

    Making money is everything, ask this question here"would you rather he happier,healthier or wealthier"is a no brainer, wealth superseeds all.

    But in among the madness is a haven of peace,the Hong Kong parks are well kept,its not uncommon for couples to get married in them , encouraged by an entourage of helpers,last week a coupled got married, white dress and tuxedo both with tennis shoes.

    Its a compliment to the people of Hong Kong where there are few vandals,the parks are a place of pride I am gratefull to be able to walk through them even late at night with out fear.

    lee du ploy

  • lee du ploy

    "Compromise "as they say is striking a happy media,ballance comes to mind and true happiness apears to me at least to accept that fortune or mis fortune.

    In Hong Kong many of senior citizens are up early doing Tai Chi,that wonderfull melodic rythmic movement,its woth checking it out.

    There are many videos and you certainly don't have to be an expert to follow the basics.

    Many people I see suffer from some sort of pschycological disorder,how ever I've noticed a big improvement in those who couple Tai Chi and touch.

    The simple touch of one person to another is healing in every sense, it allows us to feel accepted and helps us to help try a little Tai Chi and perpaps a little approriate touching.

    lee du ploy

    ( I live and work in Hong Kong)