Two hours a week outdoors in nature linked to better health

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By Adam Vaughan

Spending just 2 hours a week in green spaces such as parks, woodlands and fields has been linked with people feeling healthier and happier.

The health benefits of being out in nature have been well-documented and will seem common sense to many of us, but until now no one has quantified exactly how much time might be beneficial. The magic number emerged from analysis of a survey of 20,000 people in England, who reported how long they spent in natural environments in the past week, plus their health and well-being.

While individuals who spent less than 2 hours in nature were no more likely to report good health or well-being than those who spent no time there at all, those who spent more than 2 hours had consistently higher health and well-being levels.

“It’s not a huge amount of time. You can spread it over the course of a week or seem to get it in a single dose, it doesn’t really matter,” says Mathew White at the University of Exeter, UK. Moreover, the threshold is within reach for most people: the analysis found that the average person spent 94 minutes a week exposed to a natural environment.

Green is good

“We have long known that nature is good for physical and mental health and putting numbers on the critical ‘dose of nature’ which gives us the best health is a really important step forward,” says Rachel Stancliffe of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford, UK.

After 2 hours, the health benefits of being out in nature seem to give diminishing returns, with a cut-off after 5 hours. White says that could be explained by many of that group being dog walkers who are out in nature with little choice in the matter. The team controlled for the fact that the health benefits might be a byproduct of physical activity, not contact with nature.

The magnitude of health gains of 2 hours spent in nature appear to be significant, on a par with the health differences associated between living in a well-off area and a deprived one. They also seem to apply to everyone, regardless of age, gender, long term illness or disability. “You don’t have to be running around the park, just sitting on a bench will do,” says White.

Initial findings from a European Union project due to be published later this year suggests 2 hours is not just the magic number for the English, says White, but all Europeans.

Journal reference: Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3

Original article from June 2019 NewScientist-Health

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