How to reduce brain fatigue easily and naturally

Teresa Tanoos's picture
A walk in the park
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Just as our bodies can become fatigued and sore when overworked, so too can our brains, resulting in a condition known as brain fatigue. Brain fatigue can lead to an inability to focus properly on daily tasks that may cause us to make mistakes.

Research has demonstrated that the human brain can only focus so much before distractions – such as constant noise and interruptions – eventually cause it to be overwhelmed and fatigued. When this happens, we tend to get easily stressed, forgetful and mentally exhausted.

However, a new study published this month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine indicates that you can get significant relief from brain fatigue by just taking a walk through natural green spaces, like a park full of trees. Indeed, prior studies have shown that those who live near lots of trees and parks have lower levels of the stress hormone called cortisol, compared to those living in more desolate, concrete spaces.

Prior studies have also suggested that natural settings and green spaces are soothing to the nervous system, diverting our attention away from the hectic "busy-ness" of daily living while promoting a more contemplative state. Nevertheless, testing the validity of easing brain fatigue by taking walks in parks has previously been difficult to prove because it had been impossible to study the brains of people while they were actively moving through the park.

Thanks to a recent technological development, however, scientists have finally been able to conduct a study that tests the brains of people while they’re actually walking outside. The device is a light, portable version of the electroencephalogram, which utilizes technology that studies brain wave patterns.

This technology was used in the new study, with researchers at the University of Edinburgh attaching the new, portable EEGs to the scalps of 12 healthy young adult volunteers. The electrodes were hidden underneath a fabric cap, wirelessly sending brain wave readings to a laptop inside a backpack that each volunteer wore.

Each volunteer was then sent out by the researchers for a mile-and-a-half walk of through three different sections of Edinburgh, with the first half-mile through a historic shopping district with old buildings and many pedestrians on the sidewalk, but only light automobile traffic.

The next half-mile walk was through a park-like setting, and the final half-mile walk was through a busy commercial district that had heavy automobile traffic and concrete buildings.

Most of the walkers finished the entire mile-and-a-half walk through three different sections in approximately 25 minutes, having been instructed to walk at their own speed – not to rush or dawdle. The entire time, the portable EEGs on their heads continued to send information about their brain wave patterns to the laptops inside their backpacks.

The researchers then analyzed and compared each volunteer’s EEG results as they searched for brain wave patterns related to measures of frustration, directed attention, mental arousal, as well as states of meditativeness or calm.

As a result of their findings, the researchers concluded that green spaces, such as natural park-like settings, reduced brain fatigue.

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Contrary to the brain wave patterns exhibited when the volunteers walked through green spaces, when they walked through urban areas, especially the last half-mile of their walk when they went through the heavily trafficked commercial district, their brain wave patterns consistently revealed feelings of arousal, attentiveness and frustration – compared to when they walked through the park, where brain-wave readings became more meditative, and the walkers were mentally more silent.

Jenny Roe, a professor in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University, who oversaw the study, said the results of the study did not mean that walking through the park made the volunteers less attentive.

“Natural environments still engage” the brain, Roe said. But, she added, the attention demanded “is effortless. It’s called involuntary attention in psychology. It holds our attention while at the same time allowing scope for reflection.”

According to Roe, the findings of the study were consistent, strong and valuable. So go ahead and take a walk in the park.

“It is likely to have a restorative effect and help with attention fatigue and stress recovery,” Roe said.

What if you don’t have a park or green space nearby?

If taking a walk in the park is not feasible, try these common sense tips for reducing the risk of brain fatigue naturally:

Exercise Regularly - Exercising regularly improves oxygen levels in the bloodstream, leading to improved brain function.

Avoid Sugar - Sugary snacks and drinks may provide a quick energy burst, but that usually leads to an energy crash that can cause mental fogginess.

Get Enough Sleep - Adults are recommended to get 8 hours of sleep each night to feel optimally rested and alert through the day.

Take Breaks – Taking regular short breaks during work can help refresh your body and brain.

Although these tips can help improve overall health and wellness, they are no guarantee against brain fatigue when it strikes. Therefore, taking a walk in the park may provide the quickest relief. Based on the results of the new study, researchers concluded it has implications for promoting urban green space as a mood-enhancing environment for walking or for other forms of physical or reflective activity.

SOURCE: The British Journal of Sports Medicine (Br J Sports Med. 2013 Mar 6)

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