There is a growing body of research that shows that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and well-being. There are so many studies supporting this idea that policymakers, employers, and healthcare providers are increasingly considering this need for nature in how they plan and operate.
A new study of 20,000 people by researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK actually looked at how much exposure to nature was enough to make people say they feel healthy and have a sense of well-being. The answer turned out to be 2 hours a week. And the correlation was strong. People who didn’t meet that threshold did not report the benefits.
Studies have shown that time in nature – as long as people feel safe where they are – is an antidote for stress. It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood. Most of these studies are correlational rather than causal, but the results tend to be robust.
Given all this, cities are adding or enhancing parks, and schools and other institutions are being designed with large windows and access to trees and green space. The Scandinavian tradition of “forest schools” – where learning takes place in natural settings outdoors -.is finding a home in the US. Japanese researchers study the effects of “forest bathing”, a poetic term for walking in the woods.
With two-thirds of humanity projected to be living in cities by 2050, we are awakening to the idea that we need to be able to spend time in nature for our own wellbeing, even if it’s just a walk in a park.
Photo, posted November 6, 2011, courtesy of Flickr.