This Much Time In Nature Boosts Mental & Physical Health, Finds Study

Image by Hillary Fox / Stocksy

In recent years, science has made it clear: Humans need exposure to vast green spaces, to feel their toes in the grass, and to breath in fresh woodland air from time to time. Around the globe, there's mounting research to support the idea that exposure to nature improves both physical and mental health—and it goes well beyond a momentary mood boost.

For instance, loads of research from Japan has revealed the therapeutic effects of "forest bathing" (i.e., long walks in the woods), including lower blood pressure and enhanced activity of our body's natural killer cells, markers of enhanced immune function that may have anti-cancer properties, and more than 100 studies have investigated the effects of nature's mental health benefits.

But how much time in nature do we need? While the exact amount of time may vary depending on what health benefits you want to reap, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that both men and women (no matter their age or income) are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological well-being when they spend at least two hours in nature per week.

The study, which pulled survey data from over 20,000 people about their weekly contact with the natural world, found that it didn't matter whether the two hours was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits—so as little as 17 minutes a day could have a noticeable impact.

As far as what type of natural setting is best, experts say that anywhere from your local park to the beach to a wooded area counts. "The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just 2 miles of home, so even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be a good thing," said lead study author and environmental psychologist Mathew White, Ph.D., in a news release.

Experts speculate that nature may exert its healing powers in a variety of ways. For one, exposure to natural stimuli may play a significant role in regulating our autonomic nervous system and tamping down that fight-or-flight response as well as reducing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Additionally, when breathed in, certain antimicrobial compounds emitted from trees and other plants, called phytoncides (basically, plant essential oils), have a positive effect on the immune system.

Bottom line: To be our healthiest, happiest selves, we absolutely need nature. Consider this your motivation to lace up those hiking boots or take your dog for an extra-long walk in the park this weekend.

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