Better than microdosing: walks in nature

  • Reading time:4 mins read
One of my more spectacular walks in nature

Microdosing with psychedelics is taking a very low sub-hallucinogenic dose of a psychedelic, such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms. It has become a popular practice (searches, Reddit).

What are the benefits of microdosing? 

They are mainly improving mood and focus. One study found 27% for the first and 15% for the second. There is a benefit in mental health: stress, anxiety, depression. And improved creativity. However the latter is self-reported, so it only shows that people think they are more creative, not necessarily that they have more creative output.

You can see from the percentages that microdosing is not a sure thing. Many people don’t experience any benefit. 

Better than microdosing: walks in nature

A simple walk in nature provides the same benefits and more.

Let’s look at some data.

A walk in the forest significantly reduces stress and anxiety: decrease in cortisol levels, decrease in sympathetic system activity, decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, and better self-reported mood and anxiety, according to studies done on forest bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki. There is also a visible effect on anxiety: the facial muscles relax.

For focus and creativity there are significant benefits as exposure to nature calms and recharges the Pre Frontal Lobe. This enables much higher focus and creativity throughout the whole day. How much higher? David Strayer at the University of Utah ran a study to measure this using an objective measure of creativity. The results? A 50% increase in creativity as a result of exposure to nature for four days.

Creativity increases by 50% from exposure to nature.

Listening to bird song and seeing fractals (which are widespread in nature) amplifies the brain’s alpha waves which makes you feel more calm and alert.

How quick are the effects of a walk in nature? You need only 5 minutes in a forest for your mind and body to start to change.

Better yet, research suggests that being in nature at least 5 hours a month makes you happier overall. This works out to 1.25 hours a week, or about 10 minutes per day. It’s a laughably small time investment.

For much more depth on the benefits of nature, read Florence Williams wonderful book The Nature Fix. You can find in-depth exploration of these benefits, and more.

Beyond data, great thinkers through time have extolled the benefits of walks in nature. Aristotle took walks to clarify the mind. Darwin, Tesla and Einstein used walks in nature to think. Teddy Roosevelt took months in the open countryside. Nietzsche said he wrote much of his books while hiking the mountains. These men achieved great things. The fact that they attribute so much of their focus and creativity to walking in nature is strong proof.



Why is microdosing popular and walks in the park are not?

One researcher into the benefits of nature points out that the lack of exposure to nature makes people underestimate its benefits. “People may avoid nearby nature because their disconnect from nature causes them to underestimate its hedonic benefits.” Elizabeth K. Nisbeth

On the other hand microdosing is not common. However it has several characteristics that make it appear more valuable. Namely its difficulty, exclusivity and risk. It activates our bias of thinking that scarcity indicates value.

Microdosing is rather difficult. You don’t walk into a drugstore and buy a microdosing kit. The substances involved are not legal in most countries. You need to work to find providers online. These have questionable reputation and no authority regulates the substances. This means there is a real risk that you might get nothing active or even harmful.

Microdosing has scarcity and risk. It also has novelty. We see it as a 21st Century hack of our biology. All of these attributes makes it exclusive. It has social value. It signals certain characteristics, and belonging to a certain tribe, something along the lines of high-tech, entrepreneurial high achievers. The association with Silicon Valley greatly amplifies this association.

On the other hand, walks in the park or nature are easy. Anybody can do it. Everybody has been doing it for most of human history. There is little social value in it.

We do things as much for their social signaling value as for their intrinsic value. This quirk makes microdosing more popular than walks in the park, although it is more difficult and less effective.