No matter where you live or what your lifestyle might be, you probably agree that spending time in nature—among green spaces—has a restorative effect. A new study, however, has tried to quantify this.
Study author Dr. MaryCarol Hunter explains, “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.”
The University of Michigan associate professor goes on to say, “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.”
She describes that in the study participants had the freedom to choose the time of day they wanted to spend outdoors as well as for how long and the place where they would have this nature experience. The only real requirement, in fact, was that this “nature experience” must be “anywhere outside that in the opinion of the participant made them feel like they’ve interacted with nature.” The goals was simply to minimize constraints and minimize stress factors (after all, the point is to escape the stress of job, money, relationships, social media, etc).
Actually, the only restriction might have been that the participants could not participate in aerobic exercise. Obviously this was necessary to gauge that any benefit came directly from exposure to nature and not from physical activity.
Dr. Hunter adds, “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.”
All that being said, though, it should be noted that there are limitations to the study. For one, the sample size was a small group of women—mostly white—who were all of good health and with a mean age of 46. This group, of course, does not reflect the general population at large, so more research is necessary to see determine if the results can be generalized or if they need to be targeted to specific demographics. After all, not everyone has the same access to green spaces or the same amount of time throughout the week to dedicate to a “nature experience.”