Health and Wellness

Spending 2 hours in nature each week can make you happier and healthier, new study says

Sergey Spinzhar | Twenty20

There has been a widespread trend of millennials having "leafy love affairs with houseplants," which studies have found can enhance your mood and increase overall happiness. But stepping out into nature has many benefits, too.

According to a 2017 study, exposure to outdoor green spaces can reduce depression, anxiety and health risks such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. In fact, doctors have even prescribed park visits to overweight children and depressed teenagers.

A new study published in Scientific Reports, a peer-review journal from Nature Research, found that in order to reap the health benefits of nature, the optimal amount of time to spend in green spaces (i.e., urban parks, the woods or beaches) is two hours per week.

Researchers looked at a government survey that asked 20,000 U.K.-based participants to track their activities for a week. Those who spent at least two hours in nature reported better health and well-being compared to those who didn't.

The data also showed that after about 200 to 300 minutes of exposure to nature, the positive health benefits peaked, but spending more than five hours per week in nature had no further benefits.

Marcin Wiklik | iStock / Getty Images Plus | Getty Images

Interestingly, researchers found that there is such a thing as spending "too little" time outdoors: Those who spent under two hours were no more likely to report good health and well-being than those who had zero weekly exposure in nature.

The two-hour threshold was consistent across all sample groups, regardless of gender, age, living location or social class.

"Even those with long-term illnesses were more likely to report better health and well-being if they spent 120 minutes a week in nature," Mathew White, a senior lecturer in environmental psychology at the University of Exeter and a co-author of the study, wrote in an article published in The Conversation.

The authors hope that the new findings will encourage lawmakers to consider the valuable health benefits of nature when making decisions involving green spaces and building new infrastructures.

"We feel these spaces themselves are often undervalued," White says. "Access to most parks and green spaces is free, so even the poorest — and often the least healthy — members of communities have equal access for their health and well-being. We hope that evidence such as ours will help keep them that way."

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