Dr. Li Zi-Huey
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4 minutes read

There are some obvious benefits to going outside. You’ll have to stand up and move, which is beneficial if most of your day involves sitting in front of a screen. Research shows short breaks can boost engagement at work, and a quick break in natural light will deliver a shot of vitamin D. Scientists compile evidence of the value of getting out into the natural world.

According to a 2017 study, exposure to outdoor green spaces, from a stroll through a city park to a day spent hiking in the wilderness, exposure to nature has been linked to a host of benefits. There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well­being,” says Lisa Nisbet, PhD, a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. Simply just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”

Generally, the research tells us that when people are exposed to the natural environment and natural features, they tend to have :

·        a reduced stress response, when you are out in nature you have lower blood pressure, better heart rate variability

·        better mood. It is an antidote for stress

·        It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels

·        reduced the risk of psychiatric disorders- depression, and anxiety

·         enhance immune system function

·        increase self-esteem, empathy and cooperation

Breathing in nature gives us wholesome sensory awareness. When we spend time outdoors, we are more mindful of what we see, what we hear, what we smell, and what we feel

·        Attention Deficit Disorder and aggression lessen in natural environments, which also help speed the rate of healing. In a recent study, psychiatric unit researchers found that being in nature reduced feelings of isolation, promoted calm, and lifted mood among patients.

The idea that nature is good for us has been gaining ground since the 1980s. First came the biophilia hypothesis, the theory that humans have an innate desire to connect with nature, followed by shinrin-yoku, the Japanese concept that absorbing the atmosphere in forests can benefit your health. Researchers of shinrin-yoku have since identified a raft of physiological and psychological benefits, while globally studies suggest time in nature can, for example, restore our ability to focus, increase creativity, lower the risk of depression and even help us live longer.

With so many benefits linked to nature, people naturally wonder:

How long does it take to get a dose of nature high enough to make people say they feel healthy and have a strong sense of well-being?

Precisely 120 minutes.

In a study of 20,000 adults across the United Kingdom, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits, were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. The effects were robust, cutting across different occupations, ethnic groups, people from rich and poor areas, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. That pattern held true across subgroups including older adults and people with chronic health problems, and the effects were the same whether they got their dose of nature in a single 120-minute session or spread out over the course of the week (Scientific Reports, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2019).

The amount of time one spends in nature isn’t the only element to consider—it’s also beneficial to feel connected to the natural world even when you’re stuck at a desk. Researchers call this feeling by a variety of names, including nature-relatedness, connectedness to nature, and inclusion of nature in self, and they’ve developed a number of scales to measure the trait.

Whatever you call it, connectedness to nature seems to benefit mood and mental health. In a meta-analysis, Alison Pritchard, PhD, ABPP, at the University of Derby in England, and colleagues found that people who feel more connected to nature have greater eudaimonic well-being—a type of contentment that goes beyond just feeling good and includes having a meaningful purpose in life (Journal of Happiness Studies, online first publication, 2019).

In a conclusion, Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health, cognitive benefits, improvements in mood, mental health, and emotional well-being regardless of only 15 minutes or 2 hours’ time, one spends outdoors.

Studies show both green spaces and blue spaces (aquatic environments) produce well-being benefits. More remote and biodiverse spaces may be particularly helpful, though even urban parks and trees can lead to positive outcomes.


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