Previous research has shown that being exposed to nature has a variety of health benefits. Here is a brief list:
- Children suffering Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) get tangible benefits from just limited time in “green” spaces.
- Attention scores in classrooms are higher after playing in “green playgrounds” versus asphalt.
- People experience almost twice the mood elevation when walking in the country versus walking indoors. (Take that, “retail” therapy.)
- Simply looking at nature can be healing. A number of studies have demonstrated that viewing nature (even just from windows) offer a range of benefits, including:
- less stress
- lowered blood pressure
- fewer headaches and illnesses
- greater job satisfaction
- quicker recovery rates for post-operative patients
- One study conducted in Indianapolis found that children in greener neighborhoods had a reduced risk of being overweight or obese.
So, just how much nature exposure is associated with these benefits?
Some new research suggests that it might take as little as 5 minutes per day…
In a meta-analysis recently published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers show that just 5 minutes of physical activities in the presence of nature led to demonstrable benefits in both mental and physical health.
Walking, cycling, fishing, horseback riding, farming, and even gardening all constitute “physical activity.”
Five minutes was determined as the most efficient number. Longer times were still beneficial, but lead to diminishing returns. For example, 10 minutes of activity does not double the benefits!
Some interesting side notes:
- A blue/green setting seemed to cause a better health response.
- The presence of water caused an even greater effect.
- Light intensity activity (as compared to intense or moderate) seemed to have the best effect on self-esteem.
Why nature is so good for mood and self esteem…
Now that it is clear there is an effect, the interesting question is why this may be the case.
The answer seems to be that it helps restore our capacity for attention.
We evolved in non-urban environments. This makes not having exposure to nature similar to taking an animal out of their natural habitat. And, without access to at least some exposure to our natural habitat, bad things happen.
According to Doctor Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois:
“Humans living in landscapes that lack trees or other natural features undergo patterns of social, psychological, and physical breakdown that are strikingly similar to those observed in other animals that have been deprived of their natural habitat. In animals what you see is increased aggression, disrupted parenting patterns, and disrupted social hierarchies.”
Dr. Kuo (who I quote a lot here!) goes on to say:
“In evolution, those of us who found it — nature — sort of inherently interesting probably were more likely to remember where the berries were… And so the idea is that we’re selected for being interested in relevant natural phenomena.”
So being exposed to nature, helps reset our capacity for attention. And according to Kuo,
“allows us to be our best selves, so we are able to inhibit impulses that we want to be able to inhibit; we can take the long view of things; we can think better.”
I think the new study that shows all it takes is light activity for only 5 minutes a day to get the majority of the “nature benefit” is great news. I personally thought it would be a whole lot more time required. And a special thanks to Dr. Kuo, who provided most of the insight on this blog post!
I am curious; does anyone already have a 5 minute-a-day nature practice?
Barton, Jo, and Jules Pretty. “What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis.” Environmental Science & Technology, 2010.
Sullivan, W.C., Kuo, F.E., & DePooter, S. (2004). “The Fruit of Urban Nature: Vital Neighborhood Spaces.” Environment & Behavior, 36(5), 678-700.
**Taylor, A.F., Kuo, F.E. & Sullivan, W.C. (2001). “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings.” Environment & Behavior, 33(1), 54-77.