It doesn’t take long to reap the benefits of being outside. A recent study concludes that taking twenty minutes to sit or stroll in nature significantly impacts stress hormone levels.
Taking twenty! Sitting or strolling in nature significantly impacts stress hormones
This study was conducted using urban nature experiences. So, even if you live in a city, visiting a park can have these benefits without having to leave the city. The study supports doctors giving “nature-pills” to patients, now that there is a “dose” that can be depended on.
Spending 1200 seconds in nature reduces stress
“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,” says Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research. “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.”
Nature is free for all to enjoy
The great thing is that spending time in nature is free. This could be a low cost solution to reduce the impact of a stressful and overwhelming urban lifestyle dominated by screen viewing.
How the nature study was designed for evidence-based results
In order to study the effects of nature in an evidence-based way to determine just how much time to recommend, Hunter and her colleagues designed a study that would give a realistic idea of an effective dose.
Over an 8-week period, individuals were asked to spend time in nature for a duration of 10 minutes or more, at least 3 times per week. Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured from saliva samples taken before and after a nature pill, once every two weeks.
“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. 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,” Hunter explains.
She continues, “Building personal flexibility into the experiment, allowed us to identify the optimal duration of a nature pill, no matter when or where it is taken, and under the normal circumstances of modern life, with its unpredictability and hectic scheduling.”
“We accommodated day to day differences in a participant’s stress status by collecting four snapshots of cortisol change due to a nature pill,” says Hunter. “It also allowed us to identify and account for the impact of the ongoing, natural drop in cortisol level as the day goes on, making the estimate of effective duration more reliable.”
Results of the study
The study showed that 20 minutes was enough of a nature experience to significantly lower cortisol levels. Spending a little more time – between 20-30 minutes showed the greatest rate of decline in cortisol. After that, de-stressing benefits continued but at a slower rate.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit and The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10 week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. Follow Razi on Facebook at Razi Berry and join us at Love is Medicine to explore the convergence of love and health.