Spending time in nature for at least 20 minutes a day is the best way to decrease stress levels, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Dr MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study explained: “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. 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.”
Forty four people participated in an eight week experiment, called the ‘’nature pill’’ by the scientists. The participants had to spend at least 10 minutes in nature, three times a week.
Participants were required to avoid talking, reading or physical exercise during their 10 minutes. Phones, social media and internet was also off limits. They could choose when and where to take their ‘’nature pill’’ and for how long to stay outside. They did however have to commit to have true contact with nature.
“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.” Dr Hunter explained. Each participant took saliva samples before and after having their ‘’nature pill’’. The samples were went to the researchers at the end of the first, third and seventh week.
After analysing the saliva, the scientists found that the cortisol levels decreased by 21% per hour when the participants spend 20 to 30 minutes in nature. The stress hormone was reduced by 12% per hour.
Dr. Hunter explained:
“We accommodated day to day differences in a participant’s stress status. We did that by collecting four snapshots of cortisol change due to the ‘’natural pill” says Hunter. “It also allowed us to identify and account for the impact of the ongoing, natural drop in cortisol level as the day goes on. That made the estimate of effective duration more reliable.”
“The data revealed that just a twenty-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels. But if you spent a little more time immersed in nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking, cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate. After that, additional de-stressing benefits continue to add up but at a slower rate.”
According to a previous study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found exercising outdoors could improve our mood and be a great stress reliever.
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