Don’t you feel better after being outdoors? Nature walking, forest bathing, hiking, and just being in the wilderness have been shown to offer numerous health and psychological benefits, but how much time is needed in the woods to get these benefits?
A new study published in Scientific Reports finds two hours a week is minimum for getting nature’s health benefits. In a study led by University of Exeter, nearly 20,000 people from England were evaluated for health and psychological benefits of being in nature.1
Spending at least two hours (120 minutes) a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a new large-scale study. Those who spent more than 120 minutes in nature were significantly more likely to report good health and psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature during a week’s time.
The study also reports no such benefits for people who visited natural settings, such as town parks, woodlands, county parks, and beaches, less than 120 minutes a week. So, a two-hour hike each weekend may be the threshold for nature’s medicinal effects, but the study also finds the same benefits if the nature walks are broken into smaller pieces throughout the week.1
The results apply to men and women, older and younger adults, different occupational and ethnic groups, those living in both rich and poor areas, and even among people with long-term illness or disability.1
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Ayurvedic Forest Bathing
In the 1980s, Japan popularized the practice of shinrin-yoku, also known as forest bathing, an ancient Japanese practice of immersing oneself in nature by mindfully using all five senses. In Ayurveda, this is called pratyahara: using the senses as a mindfulness tool.
Stop, listen, touch, taste, smell, and see the beauty of the wilderness. Take a moment and feel through your senses. Instead of only using your senses outwardly, use them as avenues of consciousness: breathe in through each sense and feel it in your heart. Listen to the sounds of nature in your heart. Smell, see, and touch nature, bringing the awareness of each to your heart.
Or just meditate in the forest and immerse your mind with the silence of nature. Meditation has been shown to positively express our genes—something we evolved to do from our deep connection to nature.
Based on research, nature has become a critical aspect of preventive healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine.
Benefits of Nature2
- Improved immune system function (increase in natural killer cells/cancer prevention)
- Improved cardiovascular health (hypertension/coronary artery disease)
- Boosted respiratory system (allergies and respiratory disease)
- Decreased depression and anxiety (mood disorders and stress)
- Enhanced mental relaxation (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness)
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Fight Stress with Trees
Studies find that being in nature has a specific effect on our fight-or-flight nervous system. In a meta-analysis of 971 studies on forest bathing, only two did not show lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone). All the rest showed a significant reduction is stress hormone, which is linked to most age-related and degenerative health concerns.3
Studies suggest that humans have spent 99.99% of our time on earth living in a natural environment, which we have clearly adapted to. In another review of some 52 studies, scientific data link being in nature to changes in brainwave activity, autonomic nervous system stress, endocrine (hormonal) activity, immune health, and mood, which leads researchers to conclude that Nature Therapy, as it is called in the West, will play an increasingly important role in preventative medicine, stress reduction, and technostress in the future.4
So get outside and enjoy!
Read all my Nature Therapy articles here.
This article was originally published in Elephant Journal.