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To determine the optimal amount of time spent in nature for improved well-being, a UK-led study surveyed over 19,000 individuals, examining their recreational time in nature and self-reported health. The findings revealed that spending a minimum of 120 minutes per week in nature significantly boosted mental and physical health compared to those with no nature exposure. Although the benefits were relatively modest, equating to 1 percent of differences between various nature-time levels, the study emphasized that the positive effects were comparable to meeting physical activity guidelines.
The study highlighted that the benefits of spending 120 minutes in nature were not influenced by how or where the time was accumulated. Short walks near home proved as effective as longer hikes in a park, emphasizing the accessibility of nature's benefits. While this research is a foundational step toward potential nature guidelines, other studies suggest that even brief moments in nature can yield health advantages.
Evidence from a study indicates that just five minutes of exercise in nature led to increased self-esteem and mood. The rapid positive transformation observed, even in adults with demanding jobs, underscores the mental health benefits of nature. The founder of a nature play center noted that adults exhibited laughter, foraging, and a childlike sense of joy after an hour in nature.
Experts suggest that any future nature guidelines should emphasize that the reported benefits represent minimum amounts. Psychotherapists recommend framing these guidelines as encouraging, noting that greater natural time yields more significant benefits. The emphasis should be on conveying that one doesn't need an extensive outdoor adventure for health benefits; even a short visit to a park or nature spot can be beneficial.
While increased physical activity in nature contributes to health benefits, even passive activities like Japanese "forest bathing" have shown positive effects. Nature provides a break from prolonged periods of mentally taxing "directed attention," offering a refreshing experience. Experts note that putting away smartphones and fully engaging with nature is crucial for reaping these benefits.
There may be an ancestral reason for the healing properties of nature, as humans evolved by spending millions of years outdoors. Being in nature allows individuals to interrupt directed attention, providing a refreshing break. Experts advocate for a mindful, conscious approach to nature interactions, emphasizing that the healing power of nature goes beyond the quantitative time spent outdoors. In essence, humans, as part of nature, naturally thrive when connected to their outdoor environment.