Exercising Outdoors Boosts Brain Function Says Study

Exercise has long been recognized for its positive effects on cognitive function, but recent research suggests that the environment in which exercise is performed may be equally important. Studies have shown that spending time in natural outdoor environments can enhance cognition to a similar extent as acute exercise. This raises the intriguing question of how exercise and environment interact to influence cognitive function. To shed light on this topic, a study was conducted using electroencephalography to measure cognitive performance before and after brief indoor and outdoor walks.

The study:


In a groundbreaking study published in Scientific Reports, researchers Katherine Boere, Kelsey Lloyd, Gordon Binsted, and Olave E. Krigolson shed light on the profound impact of nature on cognitive function. While exercise has long been recognized as beneficial for the brain, their findings reveal that exercising in natural outdoor environments holds even greater potential.

The study aimed to explore the interaction between acute exercise and environment on cognition, specifically focusing on brief exercise periods lasting under 20 minutes. Electroencephalography (EEG) was employed to measure cognitive performance before and after 15-minute indoor and outdoor walks with 30 participants.



The results were intriguing. Participants who engaged in a 15-minute walk outside demonstrated improved performance and a significant increase in the amplitude of the P300, an event-related neural response associated with attention and working memory. Surprisingly, these effects were not observed following an indoor walk of the same duration. This suggests that the environment plays a more substantial role in enhancing cognitive function, particularly attention, when combined with acute exercise.



The implications of this research are far-reaching, considering the global rise in urbanization and sedentary lifestyles that confine people indoors. As cities expand and technology consumes more of our daily lives, the critical relationship between nature, exercise, and cognition becomes increasingly relevant. Understanding how these factors interact can provide valuable insights for combating the adverse health effects associated with urban living.

Previous studies have highlighted the positive impact of exercise on cognitive function, primarily in executive functions dependent on the prefrontal cortex. However, this investigation delves deeper into the neurological mechanisms underlying these enhancements. Neuroimaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), have demonstrated that acute exercise increases cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, improving cognitive performance. Additionally, neurotransmitters like dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have been implicated in the signaling pathways activated by exercise, influencing attention, reward, learning, and memory.

The researchers’ use of mobile EEG allowed for real-time measurements of cognitive performance before and after exercise in different environments. The study’s findings provide compelling evidence that exercising outdoors in natural settings generates greater cognitive benefits compared to indoor exercise.

This study serves as a wake-up call, reminding us of the immense power of nature to rejuvenate and optimize our cognitive abilities. By incorporating outdoor exercise into our routines, we can tap into the synergistic effects of physical activity and the environment. These findings offer valuable insights for urban planners, healthcare providers, and individuals seeking to enhance their cognitive well-being in an increasingly urbanized world.



As we navigate the challenges of modern life, it is vital to prioritize our connection with nature. By stepping outside and engaging in physical activity, we can harness the transformative power of the natural world and unlock our full cognitive potential.



Boere, K., Lloyd, K., Binsted, G. et al. Exercising is good for the brain but exercising outside is potentially better. Sci Rep 13, 1140 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-26093-2

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