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Spending Time in Nature: How Many Minutes Do We Really Need Each Week?
By Leah Zerbe
November 25, 2021
We all know spending time in nature is good for us. But is there actually a magic number to hit when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors?
As it turns out, scientists have been crunching the numbers and are now able to pinpoint how much time you should spend in nature to maximize the benefits.
The average American spends 90 percent of their lifetime inside buildings. We all should be listening …
What happens when you spend time in nature? Quite a lot, actually!
We’ll get into time-in-nature benefits in a little bit, but first, how much time in nature do you need for benefits?
UK researchers looked over the Natural Environmental Survey data of nearly 20,000 people from all different backgrounds in England.
When they finished combing through the details, an interesting pattern emerged. People who spent 120 minutes or more in nature were far more likely to report better health and a higher sense of well-being compared to people who didn’t spend time outside.
And here’s the really magical part: The findings held true regardless of an adult’s age, sex or ethnicity. Two hours a week was the magic number regardless of household income, along with people dealing with a long-term illness.
Nature elevates us all.
While parsing the numbers, researchers also discovered that the positive perks of being in nature peaked between 200 to 300 minutes a week. Beyond that, no further gain was noted.
Here’s more great news: You don’t have to get your two hour dose of nature in one big outing. Break it up into five-minute walks around an urban park, sit by a nearby stream during a lunch break, mosey around a wooded area or along the edge of a public beach — as long as your time spent in nature hits 120 minutes, you are significantly more likely to feel better.
It’s important to note that while many studies show a link between residential proximity to green space and well-being, this study focused on “direct” exposure. Put another way, they looked at how much recreational time people actually spent outside in natural environments.
And lastly, if you come up short of your 120 threshold one week, don’t despair. Simply being in green spaces for as little as 20 to 30 minutes triggers the biggest drop in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, according to another 2019 study.
Now the best part: What, exactly, happens when you spend time in nature?
Published research suggests time in natural spaces may reduce your risk of:
Hospitalization due to asthma
Studies also link time in green spaces and nature to:
Lower blood pressure
A healthier nervous system
Improved PTSD symptoms
Feeling less lonely
Sometimes nature time comes in big, heaping doses, like a week-long camping trip in the woods or a mountain biking adventure in a far-off state.
But none of that “big stuff” is necessary to feel the positive effects.
Maybe you work, live or go to school near a native plant pollinator meadow or garden, and you’re able to sneak off for a few moments when you have a little spare time, eyeing up the milkweed plants to see if any monarch caterpillars are munching away.
Maybe there’s a stream or river flowing right through your city, and you plan your commute route for some waterside reflection.
It doesn’t matter if you know the name of every tree or bird you see. Let go of all of that needing to know and just be.
Notice the colors, textures, sounds. Let your childlike sense of wonder surface again.
How do you spend time in nature? It’s a great time to unplug, but sometimes using your device can actually help “wake up” your inner explorer, no matter where you’re wandering.
Consider downloading the Seek app by iNaturalist to learn about plants, insects, fungi and other living things in your neighborhood.
If you’d like to start collecting valuable data as a novice “community scientist,” check out Budburst, Journey North, Monarch Watch, e-Bird and Monarch Joint Venture on ways you can contribute.
With a B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.