Individuals who spent 120 minutes or more in natural environments — such as parks, woodlands and beaches — in a week had consistently higher levels of both health and well-being than those who reported no exposure, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
“We’ve known for a long time that time in (safe) natural places can be good for health and well-being and doctors are starting to discuss this with some patients,” Mathew P. White, PhD, from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at University of Exeter Medical School in the U.K., told Healio Psychiatry. “However, what we’re hearing is that they want to know how much time they should be saying to their patients.”
In their study, White and colleagues examined connections between time spent in nature (grouped into 60 minute categories) in the previous week and self-reported health (good vs. poor) and well-being (high vs. low) using data from a representative sample of the adult English population.
The sample comprised 19,806 participants from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey (2014/2015 to 2015/2016). Researchers also controlled for residential greenspace and other neighborhood and individual factors in their analyses.
The results showed that compared with no nature contact, direct exposure to nature for 120 to 179 minutes in the last week significantly increased the likelihood of reporting good health (OR = 1.59; 95% CI, 1.32-1.92) and high well-being (OR = 1.23; 95% CI, 1.08-1.4). However, these observed positive associations peaked between when individuals spent 200 to 300 minutes per week in nature and there was no further gain, according to the study.
Spending two hours outside in nature was linked to good health and well-being, according to the results.
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This pattern was consistent across those living in urban and rural areas; those in high and low deprivation areas; for both men and women; for younger and older adults; for those of high and low occupational social grade; for people with and without a long-term illness/disability; and for those who did and did not meet physical activity recommendations.
Further analyses also showed it didn’t matter how the 120 minutes of contact each week was achieved — whether individuals reported one long visit, two 60-minute visits or three or more shorter visits.
“This is by no means the final word on this, but it’s a start. Two hours a week seems doable for most people. Let’s see what the medical community make of it,” White told Healio Psychiatry. “It seems to benefit all kinds of groups, though we now need more work on possible benefits to specific conditions (eg, diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, etc) in terms of dosage.”
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.