Would you say you’ve been feeling stressed out lately? Anything going on that’s filling you with crushing anxiety? Keeping you up at night? Creating premature wrinkles? A new study says maybe closing some of the CNN tabs and going out into nature for just 20 minutes a day could help alleviate some of that.
The paper, published by Frontiers in Psychology, detailed the effects of sending 36 urban dwellers outside for a “Nature Experience,” or NE, for 10 minutes at least three times per week over the course of eight weeks. Following a dosage of this “nature pill,” researchers then tested participants’ cortisol levels to see whether these mandatory breaks made a difference. They did.
“We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us,” Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an associate professor at the University of Michigan and the study’s lead author, told Science Daily. “Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.”
While it’s long been established that spending time outdoors is linked to a sense of wellbeing—or at least, a reduced sense of wanting to throw your phone into a bog every time a news alert pops up—little was known about the specifics. Exactly how much time outside do you need? And can a stroll along a mountain ridge be substituted for, say, standing in a handful of weeds while your dog pees next to a crumpled Mickey’s can?
“Participants were free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience, which was defined as anywhere outside that in the opinion of the participant, made them feel like they’ve interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading,” Hunter explained.
She continues, “Building personal flexibility into the experiment, allowed us to identify the optimal duration of a nature pill, no matter when or where it is taken, and under the normal circumstances of modern life, with its unpredictability and hectic scheduling.”
In conclusion, spend more time in nature, even if “nature” is just you lying face down in the closest park wailing incoherently into the grass.