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January 01. 2013 11:18PM

Peace of mind: What rural folks already know

Take a hike if you know what's good for you. That's not a threat from a 1950's mafia movie. It's science.

Psychologists at the University of Kansas and the University of Utah wanted to study the connection between brain function and spending time in nature. As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, the psychologists studied Outward Bound participants who spent four to six days in the woods. The subjects were forbidden from using any electronic devices while on their hikes. Participants were split into groups, with one taking a mental agility test before entering the woods, the other after several days "off the grid." Those who were tested after four days in the woods scored 50 percent better than their counterparts who were tested before going in.

The authors concluded that "higher-order cognitive skills improve with sustained exposure to a natural environment."

That is only one study, but it is consistent with others that have shown a positive connection between attention levels and exposure to nature. For example, a University of Michigan study found that participants who took a long walk in a park performed better on a mental skills test than did those who took a long walk in the city.

New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the nation. Maybe that is one reason why our students consistently perform above the national average in national standardized tests. (Students in Maine, the most-forested state, also perform above average, but not as well as New Hampshire students do.)

Most Granite Staters know that living among the hills, rivers, forests and mountains is good for the soul and the body. We also know what it can do for our peace of mind. Now scientists are confirming that it can improve creativity, attention span and mental function. Nice of them to catch up to us.


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