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Dec 16, 2012 by APRIL McCARTHY
Walking Outdoors Away From Technology and Gadgets Can Boost Brain Power 50 Percent

Clearing your mind may be as easy as leaving your laptop at home, switching off the smartphone and taking a walk outdoors. It may even help boost brain power by as much as 50 percent, a study has revealed.

This holiday season, why not get your loved one some silk long underwear or furry, soft gloves or a good hat to encourage outdoor activity. But tell them to leave their cell phone at home while out on their excursions. This not only helps with physical health, but also can improve people's mental well-being.

Researchers found that adults performed much better in a creative test after spending four days in the great outdoors disconnected from modern technology.

They say it is the first time that scientists have proven being in a park or woodland can improve your problem-solving skills.

And it may also explain why a holiday helps recharge the batteries after busy periods of work.

‘The study shows that you need to leave the iPhones and other technology at home and give your brain a break,’ said co-author David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

‘Too much of a good thing is not a good thing and so for creativity to flourish you need to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world.’

Adults in Britain spend an average if three-and-a-half hours in front of the small screen each day - around 15 percent of their life.

The population’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle and vast use of tablet computers, televisions, smartphones, laptops and games consoles, has been linked to obesity problems and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

For the novel study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, 54 American adults with an average age of 28 participated in a four to six day hike. No electronic devices were allowed.

Before the trip commenced, 24 individuals were tested and scored an average 4.14 in a 10-question creativity test. The remaining 32 were tested at the end of the walk and answered an average of 6.08 questions correctly - an improvement of 50 percent.

Researchers said the results indicate that time spent walking in parks and woodlands away from demanding technology helps individuals to restore brain power.

They say a hike provides an easy way to lift your creative abilities after long periods in front of a computer or TV screen.

‘We show that four days of immersion in nature and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent,’ said Prof Strayer.

‘We are not sure if it is the increased exposure to nature or the decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology that helps, but it’s probably a mixture of both.

‘In the real world, you are either in one or other state. When you head out into nature, you’re unlikely to be surrounded by gadgets, while if you’re at home or in the office the opposite is likely true.’

While earlier research has indicated nature has beneficial effects, ‘it’s equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits’ end that is associated with the benefits,’ Prof Strayer said.

He added: ‘This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before.

‘It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature.’

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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