How Long Should We Stay Outside To Reduce Stress?

Researchers have discovered the right dose of outdoor exposure that healthcare providers can use to help people reduce mental stress. The team suggested spending at least 20 minutes in places where you feel in contact with nature can significantly lower stress hormone levels.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, is the first to provide a specific dose of urban nature experience, which researchers said medical practitioners can use to prescribe “nature-pills” in the future. 

"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," MaryCarol Hunter, lead author of the study and an associate professor at the University of Michigan, said in a statement posted Thursday on EurekAlert.

"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."

Hunter and her team also designed a test that doctors can use to get a realistic estimate of an effective dose for patients.

For the study, the researchers asked participants to take a nature pill up to 10 minutes or more, three times a week. They also measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol before and after a nature pill.

The findings show that a simple 20-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels. But the people who had longer exposure to nature, even just by sitting in the park, had their cortisol levels drop at the greatest rate.

"Healthcare 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."

She added their findings could serve as a basis of future research, particularly those that will focus on effects of nature and stress, well-being programs, customized nature pill prescriptions as well as designs of future cities.

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