Science says you can lower stress with a 20-minute “nature pill”

Need a mood changer? Just spent 20 minutes a day around some plants, trees, dirt, grass, or moss, a University of Michigan researcher says. That amount of time, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter discovered in a study published in Frontiers in Psychology, significantly lowers stress hormones. This study has established for the first time the most effective “dose” of nature we need to get its positive effects. A walk through the park? Call it the “nature pill.”

“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,” said Dr. Hunter, the lead author, in a release. “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.”

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During the experiment, participants were asked to be in nature for 10 minutes or more, three times a week.

No phone, just nature

“Nature” was broadly defined; they only had to be in a place that made them feel like they had interacted with nature. And of course, some rules were in place: they shouldn’t be on their phone, checking their phone, checking social media, reading, or using their nature escapade to exercise.

It was revealed that just 20 minutes in nature was enough to make cortisol levels drop. However, if participants spent even more than 20 minutes making contact with nature – say, 30 or more – cortisol levels dropped even more.

One major effect of determining the base “dose” is that healthcare practitioners can now “prescribe” jaunts in the woods, knowing that they will have a positive effect.

“Healthcare practitioners can use our results as an evidence-based rule of thumb on what to put in a nature-fill prescription,” said Hunter. “It provides the first estimates of how natures experiences impact stress levels in the context of normal daily life. It breaks new ground by addressing some of the complexities of measuring an effective nature dose.”

Dr. Hunter hopes her research will lead to “deeper insight” to how to design cities and wellness programs for the public.

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