Spending time in green spaces like parks helps improve attention span, concentration, and well-being, which can be demonstrated by improvements in step patterns measured when walking in different settings.
But that can also be achieved in other settings, as researchers from the University of Bristol have found: People who felt most comfortable in urban settings had as regular stride patterns as people who felt relaxed walking in nature .
Calculating the steps
The findings, published in PLOS ONE , show that more than being an exclusive quality of natural environments, the key factor of an environment is how comfortable people feel in it and that defines how beneficial it is for well-being. This means that a well-designed urban environment can be just as beneficial for concentration and attention as the natural environment.
As explained by the study’s lead author, Daria Burtan of the Bristol College of Psychological Sciences:
As our cognitive faculties begin to decline in old age, the step patterns we make with our feet become slower and more variable, relative to when we are younger in the prime of our health. We found that the same thing happened when people walked towards images of urban scenes and nature that they were not comfortable with; their gait patterns became slower and more varied, relative to when they watched scenes that they found comfortable and that they liked. This not only suggests that the environments in which we feel comfortable and safe place less processing demands on our brains; demonstrates how measuring the real-time dynamics of our gait provides us with a powerful new tool to report on the cognitive impacts of architecture and urban design.