How much time do you spend in nature each week? How about your children? Do you ever wonder how much is enough?
Multiple studies have found psychological and physical benefits to spending time in nature:
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What has not been determined by previous studies is how much time in nature is really beneficial. According to a study published in Scientific Reports, the magic amount of time is equal to or greater than 120 minutes.
Spending time in natural environments can benefit health and well-being, but exposure-response relationships are under-researched. We examined associations between recreational nature contact in the last seven days and self-reported health and well-being…Compared to no nature contact last week, the likelihood of reporting good health or high well-being became significantly greater with contact ≥120 mins (e.g. 120–179 mins: ORs [95%CIs]: Health = 1.59 [1.31–1.92]; Well-being = 1.23 [1.08–1.40]). Positive associations peaked between 200–300 mins per week with no further gain. The pattern was consistent across key groups including older adults and those with long-term health issues. It did not matter how 120 mins of contact a week was achieved (e.g. one long vs. several shorter visits/week).Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing
This large study involved 19,806 participants in England who self-reported activity and results. Researchers found the “threshold” of 2 hours a week to be significant. It did not matter what kind of direct experience participants reported, such as a long walk once a week or daily shorter visits to a park, in affecting the outcomes.
Many doctors currently prescribe nature or forest therapy to their patients as living in an urban environment can cause stress and depression, as well as related physical health conditions.
A Japanese study published in 2017 found that older people living in a group home setting experienced less depression when they spent more time outdoors. “These findings may help disentangle the role of going outdoors in regulating brain function to improve and/or maintain mental health among community-dwelling older adults.” Researchers found that increased activity in the orbital prefrontal cortex of the brain positively corresponded with time spent outdoors in a natural setting.
A Stanford study compared the results of walking on a busy road to a nature walk for 90 minutes. The nature walkers had decreased activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain shows increased activity when one worries or has anxiety.
This new study is the first scientific study to determine the optimal amount to advise. Previous studies have addressed the access or proximity of green spaces to one’s home in affecting mental and physical health. In particular, children’s cognitive function and brain development are affected by living in green neighborhoods. Of course, living in or near green spaces makes it easier to spend time in nature; however, now we have information suggesting just how much time we should spend.
I’m a bit of a nature junkie spending 7-20 hours at least a week surrounded by trees, creeks, and mountains. I have found that when life is particularly challenging, a long hike gives me time to think calmly and puts stresses into perspective. I hope that this new advise of 120 minutes a week will encourage people to get outside more and connect to Mother Nature.