A new large-scale study was published in Scientific Reports earlier this month which showed that spending at least two hours a week in nature is key to promoting health and wellbeing. The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and led by the University of Exeter in the UK.
The study found that those who spend at least 120 minutes a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all during the week. The two hour mark was substantial in the study as researchers noted that spending less than this amount of time had no such benefits.
According to Science Daily:
The study used data from nearly 20,000 people in England and found that it didn’t matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.
While it may seem obvious to many people that being outside is good for health, until now, there was no threshold established as to how much is enough.
Dr Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study, said: “It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and wellbeing 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 greenspaces seems to be a good thing. 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.”
Researchers also noted that simply living in a greener neighborhood is also good for health and wellbeing.
Co-author of the research, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden said: “There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family. The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical.”
While Americans continue to rely on an ever-increasing supply of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft, and Paxil, to boost their wellbeing, studies like this show how nature can be even more effective.
As TFTP previously reported, a similar study showed nature to be an effective treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD, according to findings from a multi-year research study being conducted by U.C. Berkeley in partnership with the Sierra Club Outdoors program.
Researchers gathered “two dozen UC Berkeley student veterans whose psychological and physiological response to the awesomeness of big nature is being studied,” Berkeley News reported, during and after participating in whitewater rafting. Combat veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, Jet Garner, took part in a rafting trip down the North Fork American River with fellow vets last summer, and noted remarkably positive results:
“It felt like we were really living in the moment. It really felt like we were moving on beyond our hang-ups.”
But researchers found the benefits didn’t end with the trip, as just one week after rafting, veterans “reported a 30 percent decrease in PTSD symptoms,” as well as better relations with friends and family. Berkeley doctoral student in psychology, Craig Anderson, heads the study which began in 2014, tracking participants through journals, surveys, and GoPro cameras provided for each trip.
“If doctors were able to write prescriptions for people to go out in nature, it would be one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, and would change our relationship to the outdoors,” said Anderson, an avid outdoorsman.
Ordinarily associated with negative effects like anxiety, inflammation, and memory loss, raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol correlated to positive reactions in participants following the trip.
“It’s an adaptive hormone,” Anderson explained. “When we sit in front of computers being stressed out, cortisol doesn’t help us. But when we’re out in nature and we need more energy to achieve something physically demanding, cortisol goes up in a good way.”
One Vietnam veteran, who hadn’t swum since serving on a Swift Boat, stepped well outside his comfort zone and was observed “frolicking in the water” after one of the rafting trips.
But veterans aren’t the only group participating or experiencing positive results — researchers have also conducted rafting trips for PTSD-suffering youth from inner-city areas where violence mars daily life. Rafting allowed members of both groups to let down protective psychological barriers and cooperate as units.