It’s a medical fact: Spending time outdoors, especially in green spaces, is good for you.
A wealth of research indicates that escaping to a neighborhood park, hiking through the woods, or spending a weekend by the lake can lower a person’s stress levels, decrease blood pressure and reduce the risk asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, while boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy. Doctors around the world have begun prescribing time in nature as a way of improving their patients’ health.
One question has remained: How long, or how frequently, should you experience the great outdoors in order to reap its great benefits? Just how much nature is enough?
According to a paper published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, the answer is about 120 minutes each week.
The study examined data from nearly 20,000 people in England who took part in the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey from 2014 to 2016, which asked them to record their activities within the past week. It found that people who spent two hours a week or more outdoors reported being in better health and having a greater sense of well-being than people who didn’t get out at all.
Spending just 60 or 90 minutes in nature did not have as significant an effect. And five hours a week in nature offered no additional health benefits.
“What really amazed us was that this was true for all groups of people,” said Mathew P. White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study. “Two hours a week was the threshold for both men and women, older and younger adults, different ethnic groups, people living in richer or poorer areas, and even for those living with long term illnesses.”
It did not matter how close people lived to recreational spaces or how often they frequented them, as long as they accumulated two hours of outdoor time by the end of the week.
Not everyone has the benefit of living near natural landscapes or parks that they can visit every day. But they can still get the same benefits by taking a long walk on one day, or making a trip to a recreational area on a weekend.
The latest study is a major first step toward developing concrete guidelines for nature prescriptions, akin to the guidelines for weekly exercise. The current weekly recommendation for American adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate activity, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or some combination of the two.