Can’t concentrate? Seek a lake

By Morgan Sherburne • Published: January 27th, 2015
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Doctors from the 19th century who prescribed sea escapes for illnesses may not have been all wet: Recent research shows that people who take a stroll by a body of water receive a mental lift.

In the book Blue Mind, scientist Wallace J. Nichols examines how being near water releases a flood of feel-good hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin.

He cites a study in which 30 subjects viewed both country and city scenes. The subjects then assessed whether they felt peaceful, accustomed or suffocated.

When viewing the urban scenes, none of the study participants rated themselves as feeling peaceful. In fact more than half of study subjects felt suffocated when they looked at urban images. But when viewing the rural scenes, 90 percent of participants felt peaceful. In this case, only one subject felt suffocated.

The researchers also scanned the study subjects in a functional MRI machine while they gazed at scenes. They found the regions of the participants’ brain associated with reward and pleasurable activities were activated more while viewing the rural scenes than when they viewed urban scenes. When participants viewed urban scenes, areas of their brains associated with feelings of both pleasure and fear were activated.

Other studies have shown that people report feeling more mentally restored by scenes that contained water than scenes without water. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology points to “blue space” — lakes, ponds, rivers or oceans — as more psychologically restorative than landscapes without water.

If you don’t have the good fortune to work next to the sea, take a walk by the nearest creek, pond, lake or even fountain. The mental recharge may be worth the time away from your desk.