Austrians are no slouches when it comes to analyzing our thoughts and feelings. After all, Freud was Austrian, as was the philosopher Wittgenstein, and many other gray-matter-obsessed thinkers.
But Austrians also tend to have an instinctive embrace of nature, whether it’s a quad-burning quest to summit a mountaintop or a leisurely afternoon spent picnicking under a canopy of chestnut trees. This is a culture that has plenty of energy to deconstruct how—and why—you feel what you’re feeling, while fully valuing a stroll to see whether the wild strawberries are in flower.
Consider the Austrian royalty, who regularly hightailed it out of Vienna, despite its intoxicating big-city charms, to the countryside. They often decamped to Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut lake region to unwind. In addition, Schloss Hof, just outside Vienna, was the preferred hunting lodge of Hapsburgs like Kaiser Franz-Josef and his entourage.
You should follow their lead, and not just because the Austrian countryside is gorgeous and bursting with places to play. Time in nature settles the mind, and there’s plenty of science proving this out.
If the research had existed at the time, those elegant ladies and gents from Vienna would have discovered that quiet time in the forested lower Alps helps boost the immune system. They’d have learned that a long walk away from the noise of streetcars and commerce quiets the worrying parts of the brain. And they’d have found that off-the-grid time—surrounded by clean mountain air and sparkling glacier-fed lakes—makes for more effective thinkers and better problem solvers.
Indeed, there’s a growing chorus of studies turning up more and more benefits of time spent in nature, among them, lower heart rates and blood pressure levels. Stanford researcher Greg Bratman and his colleagues even determined that walking amid greenery decreases activity in the part of your brain associated with depressive, self-deprecating rumination. In other words, nature makes us nicer to ourselves.
It all amounts to validation of a centuries-old suspicion: that time spent in nature is healing. So join today’s Austrians, who head outdoors to spot birds soaring above the peaks of Hohe Tauern National Park; to explore the scenic dairy farms and villages of the Bregenzerwald; and to contemplate wildflowers dancing in the wind. It’s not just good for your body—it’s good for your brain.