Modern life is busy, so it can be hard to take some time out to be with nature. But it may be worth the effort as a new study suggests slotting some time in the great outdoors could be pretty good for you.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports in mid-June, says spending two hours in nature every week can likely significantly boost health.
People that spent at least 120 minutes per week in nature reported higher psychological well-being and better physical health than those who didn’t visit nature at all, or those who went for less than two hours a week. It didn’t seem to matter if the 120 minutes were spent in nature all at once or spread out throughout the week in shorter bursts. Spending more than two hours didn’t seem to bring about any particular benefits, researchers noted.
Other studies have also found a connection between time spent in nature and health, including a 2017 study that suggested time spent in green spaces can help with depression and anxiety, as well as health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. But, this is the first time an amount of time to spend outdoors has been quantified.
“It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough. The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be a good thing,” Dr. Mathew White, who led the study at the University of Exeter, said in a news release.
“Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit,” he said.
The research is based on government interviews with 20,000 people in England about what they spent the last week doing. Results applied to all genders, ages, ethnic groups, occupations, socioeconomic levels and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The study controlled for the amount of green space individuals had in their own neighbourhoods, whether they had pets, and other individual factors.
It didn’t seem to matter if participants spent their time exercising or merely resting on a bench, as long as they were outdoors, benefits were seen.
White told the Guardian that researchers weren’t sure why the nature time helped people, but he theorized it was due to a sense of tranquility that people gained when they spent time outdoors.
“Most people are under multiple pressures at any given time. So you go away in a natural setting, it is quiet, it is relaxing and it gives you time to start to process things.”
Among respondents who spent little or no time outdoors, a quarter said they were in poor health and nearly half said they weren’t satisfied with their lives. In the group that spent 120 minutes or more in nature every week, only one-seventh said they were in poor health, and only a third weren’t satisfied with their lives.
“There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and well-being, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family,” co-author Terry Hartig, of Sweden’s Uppsala University, said in the news release.
“The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and well-being, similar to guidelines for weekly physical.”