Researchers from the University of Michigan have determined just how much of a nature dose you need in order to reduce stress. It is well known that taking time to be in nature leads to a decrease in stress hormone levels, but this study has refined the prescription to 20-30 minutes sitting or walking while surrounded by nature. 

In MaryCarol Hunter’s study, participants were instructed to sit or walk in a natural area for at least 10 minutes, 3 times a week over an 8 week period. Saliva samples were used to measure cortisol levels before and after the allotted nature time, once every 2 weeks. Participants had flexibility in their choice of nature experience as long as they stayed away from screens, night outings, and exercise. The researchers intended to demonstrate that anyone can use this technique to reduce stress, with few specific parameters required. 

Hunter observed that after 20 minutes in nature, cortisol levels were significantly reduced from measurements taken before the nature experience. Longer durations lead to the greatest reductions in cortisol levels. Additional stress reduction builds at a slow pace after that. Thus, a prescription for nature can be incorporated into daily life within an accessible time period. Moreover, Hunter’s research can be used to further refine the stress reducing benefits of nature by investigating how factors such as sex and personality affect these benefits. 

Not only is nature free and available to everyone, but spending more time in nature can break vicious cycles that lead to stress, such as too much screen time. Connecting with and paying attention to nature encourages mindfulness and allows one to be connected to the here and now. We now know that focusing on the beauty of the earth around us has biological consequences. There’s now no excuse for any of us not to pick up a prescription and get outdoors.

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This post was written by McKenzie Cline