Study Shows Taking A 20-Minute Walk In Nature Is All You Need To Cut Stress
News 17 Hours Ago
Travel & Leisure — Andrea Romano
One helpful trick to keep yourself from getting burned out may actually be as simple as taking a short walk in nature, according to a study by the University of Michigan.
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggests that taking 20 minutes to stroll in nature can reduce your stress hormone levels. The study coined this remedy as a “nature pill.”
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The study rounded up participants, asking them to take a walk for 10 minutes or more, at least 3 times a week. Levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured using saliva swabs both before and after the so-called “nature pill.” The study found that after the walks cortisol was cut by 10 percent on average.
“Participants were free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience,” said Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study. “Building personal flexibility into the experiment, allowed us to identify the optimal duration of a nature pill, no matter when or where it is taken, and under the normal circumstances of modern life, with its unpredictability and hectic scheduling.”
Nature could be defined by the participants as anywhere where they feel they’re interacting with a natural setting. If you live in a city, even a small park, a patch of grass, or any area with trees can suffice.
During the walks, participants were not allowed to do aerobic exercise or use social media, internet, take phone calls, have conversations, or even read. Also, the “nature pill” had to be in daylight.
These findings are in sync with other studies that propose getting out into nature in order to stay stress-free. One study posited that fishing trips, in particular, are good for your mental health.
But stress isn’t just about your mind. It can also take its toll on the body. According to the American Heart Association, stress “may affect behaviors and factors that increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.”
It’s clear that relaxing makes a big difference in people’s health. Better yet, this makes a good argument for taking a vacation, which could actually help you live longer, according to one study.
Human consciousness is simply a state of matter, like a solid or liquid – but quantum
By Sebastian Anthony on April 24, 2014 at 8:13 am 255 Comments
Neural network/digital consciousness
Thanks to the work of a small group neuroscientists and theoretical physicists over the last few years, we may finally have found a way of analyzing the mysterious, metaphysical realm of consciousness in a scientific manner. The latest breakthrough in this new field, published by Max Tegmark of MIT, postulates that consciousness is actually a state of matter. “Just as there are many types of liquids, there are many types of consciousness,” he says. With this new model, Tegmark says that consciousness can be described in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory, allowing us to scientifically tackle murky topics such as self awareness, and why we perceive the world in classical three-dimensional terms, rather than the infinite number of objective realities offered up by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
Consciousness has always been a tricky topic to broach scientifically. After all, science deals specifically with effects that can be observed and described mathematically, and consciousness has heretofore successfully evaded all such efforts. In most serious scientific circles, merely mentioning consciousness might result in the rescinding of your credentials and immediate exile to the land of quacks and occultists. (Read: How to create a mind, or die trying.)
A view of the human hippocampus, with fluorescent proteins and confocal microscopy
A stunning image of the neurons in a human hippocampus
But clearly, consciousness — or sentience or soul or whatever else you call the joie de vivre that makes humans human — is a topic that isn’t going away. It’s probably awfully pretentious of us to think that consciousness is the unique reserve of humans — but hey, evolution handed us these giant, self-aware brains, and so we’re going to try our damnedest to work out whether consciousness is a real thing — whether our brains really are tied into some kind of quantum realm — or if we’re all just subject to an incredibly complex Matrix-like simulation put on by our hyper-imaginative and much-too-powerful human brain. (Read: MIT discovers the location of memories: Individual neurons.)
The latest attempts to formalize consciousness come from Giulio Tononi, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who proposed the integrated information theory (IIT) model of consciousness — and now Max Tegmark of MIT, who has attempted to generalize Tononi’s work in terms of quantum mechanics. In his research paper, “Consciousness as a State of Matter” [arXiv:1401.1219], Tegmark theorizes that consciousness can be understood as a state of matter called “perceptronium” that can be differentiated from other kinds of matter (solids, liquids, gases) using five, mathematically sound principles.
The internet brain of modern societyThe paper, as you can imagine, is a beastly 30-page treatise, but the Physics arXiv Blog does a good job of summarizing it (if you’re comfortable with quantum mechanics, anyway). In short, though, it outlines Tononi’s ITT — that consciousness results from a system that can store and retrieve vast amounts of information efficiently — and then moves onto his own creation, perceptronium, which he describes as “the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware.” This substance can not only store and retrieve data, but it’s also indivisible and unified (this is where we start to wander into the “here be dragons” realm of souls and spirits and so forth). The rest of the paper mostly deals with describing perceptronium in terms of quantum mechanics, and trying to work out why we steadfastly perceive the world in terms of classical, independent systems — rather than one big interconnected quantum mess. (He doesn’t have an answer to this question, incidentally.)
Tegmark’s paper doesn’t get to the point where we can suddenly say what causes or creates consciousness, but it does go some way towards proving that consciousness is governed by the same laws of physics that govern the rest of the universe — that there isn’t some kind of “secret sauce,” as postulated by mystics and religious types since time immemorial. As far as science is concerned, that’s a rather big relief.
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