Could healthcare practitioners soon be prescribing “nature-pills”? A study recently published in Frontiers in Psychology aims to encourage exactly that. The study set out to measure the effect that spending time in nature has, to provide healthcare professionals with a guide to what would constitute a “dose”.
About the study
Over an 8-week period, participants were asked to take a nature pill with a duration of 10 minutes or more, at least 3 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.
“We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us,” says Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research. “Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.”
“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’ve 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,” Hunter explains.
5 ways to get nature into your day
Sit in the garden with a cuppa – when my ex left about six months ago I found myself sitting in the garden to drink my coffee a couple of times a day. I didn’t know why I was doing it, other than I wanted to be outside. It really helped, and it was the first thing I thought about when I looked at this study.
Take the kids to the park – when the weather is dry, swinging by your local park on the way home from school is a lovely way to start your evening together. Make a quick 20 min visit to the park part of your routine and you’ll all be a little more chilled.
Find a more scenic route home – the above applies to pretty much any journey. Explore your neighbourhood, get to know where the green spaces are and make sure you visit them.
Bring nature indoors – having indoor plants helps pick up your mood a little, as does a colourful bunch of flowers. Throwing open your windows as far as they will go and letting the fresh air flow through also really helps on the days you can’t face going outside.
Go foraging – at this time of year, the spring greens are starting to grow. We love picking wild garlic especially, but stinging nettle is everywhere, nutritious and easy to pick if you’re careful!
While I can’t help but wonder how people would react if their doctor told them to just get outside more, it’s hard to deny that spending time in nature decreases stress levels and always brings me a clearer mind.
Everyone should try to spend more time in nature during the day. Even on a miserable day, a few minutes outside can be enough to lift the mood. Don’t wait for a prescription – find nature now, on your own terms.