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Trending Science: About 17 minutes a day outdoors keeps the doctor away

New large-scale study finds that spending about 2 hours a week in nature is good for us.

Fundamental Research

Research published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’ suggests that at least 120 minutes a week experiencing nature improves health and well-being, both mental and physical. The study is based on interviews with around 20 000 people in England about their natural world activities in the previous week. Findings show that people who spent 2 hours a week or more in natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches reported better health and greater well-being than those who didn’t get out at all. The key threshold seems to be at least 2 hours. It doesn’t matter how close people lived to green spaces or how often they visited them, as long as they totalled 2 hours of outdoor time by the end of the week. Spending just 60 or 90 minutes in nature didn’t have as significant an outcome. Five hours a week soaking up nature provided no additional health benefits, either. Natural fix for a healthy mind and body “The thing that most surprised us was how consistent this was across nearly all the groups we looked at: young and old, male, female, urban and rural dwellers, those in deprived versus rich neighborhoods, but perhaps most importantly among those with long-standing illnesses or disabilities,” lead author Dr Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School told ‘CNN’. “We were worried our effect was just that healthier people visited nature but this finding suggested even people with known illnesses who did manage to get two hours a week in nature fared better.” Will these findings translate globally? Dr White and his team have recently finished collecting data for a similar study in 18 countries: 14 in Europe, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and the United States. “The results for that study should be out soon but, obviously, there are all relatively developed countries as well, so the next big question is how relevant is all this for people in developing countries, especially where ‘nature’ may contain many more threats to health and wellbeing,” he says. “In short, we are cautious about overgeneralizing these England-specific findings internationally at this stage.” Speaking to the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’, Dr White added: “We are also increasingly finding that the richness in biodiversity of a setting seems to be important. We have tracked 4,500 people’s visits from the same survey and what you find is they get more stress reduction if the location was an area of outstanding natural beauty, a site of special scientific interest or that kind of thing.” In the journal, the authors conclude by saying that their findings are “an important starting point for discussions around providing simple, evidence-based recommendations about the amount of time spent in natural settings that could result in meaningful promotion of health and well-being.”

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