De-stress with a 20-minute session with nature

To significantly lower your stress hormone levels all you need do is take at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel in contact with nature, says a new study that established for the first time the most effective dose of an urban nature experience.

Spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was not clear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us.

Now researchers at the University of Michigan in the US have shown that the greatest payoff in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, is to spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.

Nature pills could be a cost efficient solution to reducing the negative health impacts stemming from growing urbanization and indoor lifestyles dominated by screen viewing.

Over an 8-week period, the researchers asked participants to take a nature pill with a duration of 10 minutes or more, at least three times a week. Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured from saliva samples taken before and after a nature pill, once every two weeks.

Participants were free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of their nature experience, which was defined as anywhere outside that in the opinion of the participant, made them feel like they have interacted with nature. There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading.

The data revealed that just a twenty-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels. But if you spent a little more time immersed in a nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking, cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate. After that, additional de-stressing benefits continue to add up but at a slower rate.

The study provides the first estimates of how nature experiences impact stress levels in the context of normal daily life and will hopefully form the basis of further research in this area.

“Our experimental approach can be used as a tool to assess how age, gender, seasonality, physical ability and culture influences the effectiveness of nature experiences on well-being. This will allow customized nature pill prescriptions, as well as a deeper insight on how to design cities and wellbeing programs for the public,” said the research team.