Two hours a week in nature – forest, garden, park or beach – can improve your sense of wellbeing and physical, mental and emotional health. This is across the board, but especially true for those living in high income, urban societies. Living in urban areas with greater access to green space is associated with fewer cases of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, severe asthma and mental distress. The fascinating thing about this specific statistic is that it does not matter how you spend this time. The benefits kick in whether they are short or long walks or even gentle visits to green spaces. Two hours a week, only 17 minutes a day.
You will often hear me touting the mental and physical health benefits of nature exposure. But the benefits extend far beyond improved mental and physical health. Experiencing nature can actually lesson physical pain, is attributed to reduced community crime and is known to change attitudes resulting in increased pro-environmental behavior. With these attitudes and behavior comes a greater understanding of the severity of climate change and what we can and should do to address the nature and climate crisis.
One hundred and twenty minutes a week to improve our own health and the health of our natural environments.
There is hope.
This same study1 that identified as few as 120 minutes of contact with nature per week is associated with good health and wellbeing also noted that these benefits continue to increase up to 300 minutes a week – only 42 minutes per day. That’s only 17-42 minutes a day. We also know that to achieve these outcomes our level and intensity of contact with nature doesn’t need to be intense or extreme. It can be minimal – gentle walking, sitting in a park, even looking out a window to see the shining sun is enough to improve our emotional wellbeing.
This statistic is inspiring enough but what’s really striking is when you consider them with alongside other information about how our level of nature exposure improves quality of life. Other studies’2, 3 evidence suggests that more exposure to nature translates into more community cohesion and substantially lower crime rates. In areas with well-maintained green space, vegetation abundance is significantly associated with lower rates of assault, robbery, and burglary. How cool is that?!
Soaking up the sounds, sights and feelings of nature is especially important when we spend eight or more hours each day at a desk or in front of a phone. But there are things you can do to help liven up even your digital view to help keep your mental state healthy. Here are a few tips for building a nature:
- Houseplants help build your green space indoors, improving mood and reducing stress levels. They also give you something to nurture, building your sense of purpose and promoting a sense of comfort and relaxation.
- The sounds of nature boost mood, decrease stress and can even lessen pain. Listen to water sounds to improve mood, birdsong to reduce stress or a variety of outdoor sounds to reduce pain.
- Our sense of sight is so powerful that it can easily override out other senses making us pay closer attention to what we see than what we hear, feel or taste. Placing your desk near a window so you can take in views of the outdoors can make you feel more connected to nature thereby lifting your mood and inspiring creativity. Don’t have the option of a window? Even images of nature can help! Keeping images of nature on your digital devices that can be viewed regularly can be enough to keep your connection to nature alive.
120 minutes of nature exposure a week.
17 minutes a day.
Heal yourself, heal your community, heal your world.
1White, M.P., Alcock, I., Grellier, J. et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Sci Rep 9, 7730 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3
2BioScience, Volume 65, Issue 12, 01 December 2015, Pages 1141–1153, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biv151 Published: 19 November 2015
3Mary K. Wolfe, Jeremy Mennis, Does vegetation encourage or suppress urban crime? Evidence from Philadelphia, PA, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 108, Issues 2–4, 2012, Pages 112-122, ISSN 0169-2046, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.08.006.