It is well-accepted that getting outside is good for both physical and mental health. But now scientists have figured out that we should be spending a minimum of 2 hours outside in nature, per week to promote health and wellbeing.
The study published today in Scientific Reports and led by researchers at the University of Exeter in the U.K., considered ‘nature’ to include a variety of settings, including town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches and found that the two hours could be made up of one, or several smaller visits – with the same positive effects on wellbeing.
The research involved data from 20,000 people in England and found the 2 hour threshold applied to both men and women, older and younger adults, people from a variety of ethnic groups and there was no differences in the benefits gained based on occupation, income or in people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Essentially, 2 hours in nature is good for everyone.
However, for those who did visit these places, but for less than 2 hours per week total, had no perceptible benefits to their wellbeing.
“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,” said Dr Mat White from the University of Exeter’s Medical School and leader of the study.
But not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to ‘nature’ near their homes, particularly those living in high density areas such as cities, where people typically experience higher rates of mental health issues. However, the research suggests that there is no need to travel long distances to experience the benefits from nature.
“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,” said White. This is backed up by research showing that even a 20 minute daily urban nature walk can reduce markers of stress.
The idea of nature being beneficial to health is not new, but in some places it is gradually becoming more accepted in mainstream medicine, with doctors in a rural part of Scotland now routinely prescribing time in nature as an integral part of treatments. But what exactly is it about spending time in nature that leads to this enrichment of wellbeing?
“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,” said Professor Terry Hartig from The Institute for Housing and Urban Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, who co-authored the study. “The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing,” he added.
The researchers hope that their work will inspire more people to make time for nature and give their health a boost. “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,” said White.