There are a lot of famous wellness regimes and fitness programs that help people be more active and healthy. Amidst all of these options, however, one simple tip seems to have been overlooked – spending even just 2 hours in nature per week can lead to drastic health benefits.
Whether we’re talking about physical health or mental health, there are almost countless studies that show how beneficial it is to spend time in nature – to reduce anxiety and depression, to lower blood pressure, to boost cognitive abilities and creativity, to improve your overall fitness, and to cut the risk of a myriad of diseases – 2 hours in nature each week can do all that.
This was further supported by a new study from the UK which surveyed nearly 20,000 people (1). The study tracked all their activities for a week and determined that those who spent 2+ hours per week in nature (whether at once or at smaller increments) reported significantly better health results. The effects were even more significant for people who spent over 200-300 minutes in nature per week.
While there have been a lot of studies in this area, this is one of the first to try and quantify exactly how much time should people spend outdoors and in nature for the most efficient result possible. It was conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School (2) because the doctors there were frequently asked by patients exactly how much time they should spend in nature.
“They’re coming to us and saying ‘Doctor, how long do I have to spend?’” says Mathew White who is an environmental psychologist as well as a senior lecturer at the university. “And doctors are saying, ‘We don’t really know.’ So what we’re trying to do here is give doctors and patients the kind of evidence base that they can say, why don’t you try two hours a week?’
Naturally, it’s easy for any doctor to tell their patients to spend “As much time as possible in nature” but that’s inconclusive and ultimately – ineffective advice as most people end up continuing to not spend any time in nature. Instead, being able to give an exact number is much more effective.
“We were really relieved it was two hours and not 12 hours,” Mathew White also added. “Two hours is doable. This could be accumulated over the week: A half-hour here, half an hour there, and before you know it, you know, you’ve achieved two hours. Still, 60% of our sample weren’t getting out in nature for that amount of time a week.”
If your first instinct is to count up how much time you’ve spent on the street or in your backyard this week, keep in mind that this is not the type of environment the study is talking about. Instead, the study recommends that people look for “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals, and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside including farmland, woodland, hills, and rivers.”
Doctors elsewhere have also been recommending time in nature for a long time – the positive effects of time in nature are intuitively known to all of us. However, studies such as this one really help make these prescriptions more effective since they help raise awareness of how important it is to spend time in nature. And as Mathew White concludes:
“What we really need is a longitudinal cohort of a few thousand people that we monitor for a few years to see what happens when they change their exposure to nature and what happens in the period afterward—months and years—to their health and well-being,”