The Nature Effect: How Much Time Outdoors Is Best for Your Well-being?
Everyone just seems so happy in the summertime. Besides the fact that it's warm out, people get to spend time in green spaces and nature. Even a few minutes outdoors offers respite from the craziness of daily life. It promotes lower stress levels and offers other positive health benefits. That's what we call the nature effect!
A study published in Frontiers in Psychology asked participants to spend time in a place that brings a sense of contact with nature for at least 10 minutes per outing, three times per week, for eight weeks. The 36 participants could freely decide where and when they spent their time in nature. They couldn't use phones or internet-connected devices to browse social media or the internet. They couldn't make calls or read during their time outside. Their nature experiences couldn't include aerobic exercises. So, when they went to the place they chose, they actually had to feel connected to nature. You might sit next to a tree and just be with it. Or you might go to a city park, free of the noise of traffic.
People who spent at least 20 minutes per outing in a nature experience had a significant decrease in their levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Study authors said they envision a low-cost (even free) “nature pill” that physicians can offer to their patients. And that pill is time spent outside. Researchers know that going into the wilderness might relax one person while terrify another who just wants to decompress in an urban park. So, they want doctors to tell their patients to go where they feel most connected to the outdoors.
How to get some nature into your day
Thirty minutes a week in nature may not be doable for you. You may be unable to easily get to a green space or able to commit to that much time. Here are a few easy and practical ways to integrate nature into your life.
Get some sun. Fifteen minutes of sunlight a day can increase your vitamin D levels and help ease anxiety. Even being in the shade helps. You'll feel peaceful being surrounded by stillness instead of getting reminders of what needs to be done.
Lie on the grass and soak in the sun (wearing sunscreen, of course). Basking in nature can lift your mood and reduce stress.
Plant a tree, vegetable garden or flowers. Nature makes you feel more alive, happier and creative.
Sit near a window and stare at the stars. Don't forget that nature isn't just for the daytime. Take it in at night, too.
Buy some fresh flowers to display on your desk or kitchen table. The smell and the sight of the floral arrangement can revive your senses.