A new study by Scientific Reports found that the optimal amount of time to spend in nature and gain its health benefits is two hours per week. This was a peer-review journal from Nature Research.

A government survey that asked 20,000 participants to track their activities for a week showed that the people who spent at least two hours in nature reported better health and an enhanced feeling of wellbeing compared to people who didn’t. According to the data, after about 200 to 300 minutes of exposure to nature, the positive health benefits of spending time in nature peaked. The data also showed that spending more than five hours per week had no additional benefits.

But what makes nature so beneficial for our health? Researchers are now able to acknowledge the power of nature as a new kind of therapy, one that a doctor could prescribe as part of a treatment plan for various health issues. The great thing about this therapy is that it doesn’t cost a penny, confirming that the best things in life really are free. And this article will explore the innate power and benefits spending time in nature has to offer.

An Ancient Therapy in a Modern World

With all the new, countless studies in most recent years about the power nature can have on our health, it’s easy to forget that this is actually an ancient therapy. The earliest humans across many cultures knew that immersing themselves in nature and connecting to the earth on a deeper level was essential to health and wellbeing. The healing systems of Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, Native American medicine and traditional Chinese medicine are all medical systems that involve a physical and spiritual connection with nature. These systems, which are all at least 5000 years old, all recognise nature as vital to health and healing.

Today, there is a growing body of research proving that connecting to nature can have tremendous effects on our physical and mental health. This evidence is encouraging technology-consumed, TV show binge-watching people of our modern day to get out there and enjoy the beauty of the natural world many are missing out on. A recent study and evaluation by the University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts of the UK’s first month-long nature challenge involved people doing something ‘wild’ every day for 30 consecutive days. At the same time, participants were asked to take part in a survey about their perceived connection to nature. This included questions regarding how they interacted with nature and how they felt about their health and happiness before the challenge, when the challenge ended and two months later.

The results of the study were astounding and according to the BBC, showed a ‘scientifically significant increase in participants health, happiness, connection to nature and active nature behaviors.’ This included behaviours like feeding the birds and planting flowers for bees, but not only did these activities happen during the challenge, but they were continued for months after the challenge had finished.

Lucy McRobert, the campaigns manager for The Wildlife Trusts said that ‘the number of people reporting their health as excellent increased by 30%’, a pretty impressive statistic. This was predicted to be due to the increase in happiness and a deeper connection to nature.

Other studies show that not only can nature boost your happiness, but it can also help those who struggle with depression. Spending time outside in nature has been shown to improve depression, and in a 2015 Stanford study, researchers compared the difference between walking in nature and an urban area. There were two test groups and each group walked for one hour and a half. The only difference was that one group walked in a natural setting and the other walked through an urban setting. It was found that depression-related brain activity was lower in the natural setting group. No surprises there then, as the occurrence of mental health issues amongst the population can be as much as 40 percent greater in cities.

The physical benefits of spending time out in nature are also endless and there have been many studies on the potential power nature has for benefitting physical health, including lowering blood pressure, increasing vitamin D intake from sunlight exposure, improving sleep, reducing pain, increasing life expectancy, decreasing BMI, lowering cortisol levels, reducing cancer risk and strengthening the immunue system.

Japanese researchers presented some evidence that spending time in nature can help the body prevent cancer by helping it to produce NK (natural killer) cells which protect the body against dormant cancer cells. In fact, this is their only purpose. The research showed that a group of individuals had a significantly higher level of these cells in the bloodstream after time spent in a forest lodge. Yet another excuse to go hide in a cosy log cabin for a while!

So, if you’ve been thinking of simple ways to boost your wellbeing recently, maybe getting out and walking through your most beautiful, local, natural spots is something you could add to your week!

Written by Jess Burman

Wellbeing Writer

BA (Honours) Writing