Maybe you are doing all the right things for your brain health: Consuming brain nutrients, sleeping well, exercising, and spending time with people you enjoy.
But you may still be deficient in one factor all brains need for optimal function: Unstructured time in nature to play.
Hundreds of studies point to the necessity of human brain health and body to be regularly immersed in nature. With so many American adults working so much, children overscheduled with after-school sports and activities, and all ages perpetually glued to a screen, people simply aren’t getting enough free time outdoors in natural settings.
Some doctors are even prescribing regular time spent in parks and natural settings to their patients.
Many studies point to the health benefits of time spent in nature. For instance, studies suggest living closer to or in more natural environments is linked with positive effects on mental health, including depression and anxiety, as well as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Studies on children suggest unstructured physical activity and play time in natural areas can be very helpful with ADHD.
Researchers recognize parents are afraid to give their kids unstructured and unsupervised outdoor play time these days, but they point out the long term mental and physical risks of not doing so are less recognized yet still significant.
The necessity of unstructured play time for brain health in both children and adults
Researchers add it’s not just time outdoors that matters, but unstructured time play time in a natural environment that especially matters, especially for a child’s developing brain.
In other words, while playing soccer on a grassy field is wonderful, equally important is unfettered time next to a pond or a stream in the woods to make stick boats, dig in the mud, or engage in an elaborate play story line with friends.
These are everyday childhood activities pre-technology generations took for granted but that alarmingly few children have access to today.
Children aren’t the only ones who need unstructured play time for brain health. Studies show adults throughout the animal kingdom play — it’s necessary for good brain health, and an area where modern humans fall woefully short.
In fact, play time outdoors has been shown to:
- Stimulate brain activity
- Relieve stress relief
- Boost self-esteem
- Help you transform negative experiences to positive
- Boost creativity and imagination
- Help you connect with others
These are all great prescriptions for better brain health!
Play comes naturally to children but as an adult you may have forgotten how it works. Here are some pointers on characteristics of play that can boost your brain health:
- Purposeless; non-competitive
- Has a make-believe element
- No agenda — enjoyed for its own sake
- Set apart from the rest of your life
In functional neurology we use a variety of dietary and lifestyle modifications, along with customized brain rehabilitation strategies to help you recover your brain health or simply optimize it.
While the science, nutrition, and rehabilitation are vital to improving your brain, it’s important to also include age-old simple things that have been shown to have tremendous benefit. You may get a lot more going for a leisurely kayak paddle or hike outdoors than staying indoors to work on a computer brain training game.