A small daily dose of nature may be the perfect prescription for stress. An eight-week study found that people who spent at least 20 minutes a day in places that made them feel connected to nature had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This so-called “nature pill” could be a low-cost antidote to the negative health impacts of urbanization and an indoor lifestyle dominated by screen viewing, researchers said.
“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 lead author and associate professor MaryCarol Hunter. She studies social, psychological and ecological aspects of sustainable urban design at the University of Michigan.
The findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. The study involved 36 city dwellers. “Participants were free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience, which was defined as anywhere outside that in the opinion of the participant, made them feel like they’ve interacted with nature,” Hunter said in a journal news release.
“There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading,” she explained. For the greatest payoff, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes at least three times a week sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature, Hunter said.
This approach could offer a free and natural stress-relieving remedy for some people. “Health care practitioners can use our results as an evidence-based rule of thumb on what to put in a nature-pill prescription,” Hunter said. “It provides the first estimates of how nature 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.”
The National Recreation and Park Association has more on the health benefits of green spaces.