Backpacking Makes You Smarter

Memory and attention improve after time spent in nature

At last, science yet again confirms something we've always intuitively known: Spending time outside and in nature can help boost your mental acuity. Plenty of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts can attest to this from personal experience, but a few late-to-the-game eggheads from the University of Michigan decided test and quantify it.

For the experiment, a group of volunteers completed a set of memory and attention tests, and then to take a walk either through downtown Ann Arbor (ugh) or a nature-filled park (wheee!). Then, they re-took the memory and attention tests. Surprise, surprise: Performance on the memory and attention tasks improved greatly for those who took a walk in the park, but did not improve for those who strolled downtown.

To further prove how Mother Nature can boost your cognition, the researchers found in a second experiment that people who re-tested after seeing just photos of nature improved their scores, while subjects who looked at cityscapes did not.

There you have it: If you've got taxing mental challenge looming on the horizon—the SATs or a particularly brutal crossword puzzle, say—you should take a hike first. Failing that, pick up and read a copy of BACKPACKER. You'll become an instant genius.

—Ted Alvarez

The Benefits of a Walk in the Park (MedLexicon)