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How Spending Just 20 Minutes in Nature Can Make You Healthier

Listen to “How Spending Just 20 Minutes in Nature Can Make You Healthier”

Instinctively, we’ve always known that nature is the best prescription, but new research is now revealing how little time it takes to reap the benefits.

A new study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, attempted to answer the question of how much nature-time people needed. They did this by asking participants to spend time in a place that ‘brings a sense of contact with nature’ for intervals of at least 10 minutes, three times per week for eight weeks.

The researchers found that participants, who immersed themselves in a ‘nature experience’ for at least 20 minutes, had significantly reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol.  What’s more, if they bumped the time 20 and 30 minutes, the rate at which cortisol levels reduced was even higher. At 30+ minutes, de-stressing still continues, but at a slower rate.

Keeping an eye on your stress levels is essential. Persistently elevated levels of cortisol in the body can result in increased blood pressure, headaches, stomach pain and many other problems. Evidence even suggests that high-stress levels can contribute to long-term chronic conditions such as heart problems and diabetes.

The study’s authors wrote that they hope to one day see the development of a ‘nature prescription’, or ‘nature pill’, which health care providers can offer to their patients as a low-cost, preventive mental health treatment. The ‘pill’ simply being time spent outside.

One problem for the ‘nature prescription’ is that daily trips to the countryside aren’t feasible for many people who live in cities. However, the study’s authors say there is a simple solution. They claim that you don’t need to be fully immersed in nature to feel its effects. Leaving your office and finding a patch of grass, or even just a tree, will do the trick. Gardens, parks and street trees make up an urban and community forest. These pockets of green space are vitally important because they are the primary source of nature for city dwellers.

The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need. We all lead busy lives and things like work, school, and family life can exhaust us. If we try to focus on too many activities or even single things for long periods can, we will be mentally drained. Therefore, it’s important that we take a break. Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to be more focused and more patient.

Pennsylvania researchers found that patients in hospital rooms with views of tree views had shorter hospitalisations, less need for pain medications and fewer negative comments in the nurses’ notes, compared to patients with views of concrete jungles.

Imagine skipping the pharmaceuticals and having an effective, low-cost method for preventative medicine so readily available. With increasing urbanisation, sedentary and indoor lifestyles, and growing reliance on screen time, it’s good to know that the road to well-being could be as easy as a walk in the park.

If people connect with nature, not only is it good for them, it’s great news for nature. The more people that care intrinsically for their local environment and value the positive impact it has on their lives, the more they’ll want to protect it from destruction.

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