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Nature Benefits Our Health


Humans’ alienation from nature can lead to “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses”

The evidence shows we can boost our health and well-being by taking time to revel in nature, and there is even research showing just how much time one should spend in nature to reap the greatest benefits.

A study published in Scientific Reports explored the associations between contact with nature in the last 7 days and self-reported health and well-being.

Data from 19,806 participants were included, revealing that, compared to no nature contact, spending 120 mins or more in nature during the prior week was associated with a greater likelihood of good health or high well-being.

In this case, more was not necessarily better, as the researchers noted, “Positive associations peaked between 200 and 300 mins per week with no further gain.”

Also important, the benefits were achieved no matter how the time was split up, so spending 120 mins in 1 occasion had the same effect as multiple shorter visits, and the benefits held true across different populations, including older adults and people with long-term health issues.

The researchers suggested that, with further research, weekly nature guidelines could be developed similar to those given for physical activity. In fact, the study found that getting recommended levels of nature exposure weekly could result in a similar magnitude of health gains as achieving recommended levels of physical activity.

The health benefits of the deceptively simple act of spending time in nature are immense.

As noted in Scientific Reports: “A growing body of epidemiological evidence indicates that greater exposure to, or ‘contact with’, natural environments such as parks, woodlands and beaches is associated with better health and well-being, at least among populations in high income, largely urbanised, societies.

While the quantity and quality of evidence varies across outcomes, living in greener urban areas is associated with lower probabilities of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, asthma hospitalisation, mental distress, and ultimately mortality, among adults, and lower risks of obesity and myopia in children.

Greater quantities of neighbourhood nature are also associated with better self-reported health, and subjective well-being in adults, and improved birth outcomes, and cognitive development, in children.”

The featured study suggests it only requires 120 mins a week to reap the benefits that nature has to offer to one’s physical and psychological health.

It is a manageable quantity that should be achievable, provided one makes it a weekly priority.

For some, this may mean penciling it into a schedule the way like other important appointments. One can combine nature with already scheduled activities.

Exercising outdoors is an excellent option, take this further, taking conference calls outside, spending the lunch break in a park or even holding outdoor meetings.

Get the children involved, too, taking 20 mins to walk around the neighborhood after dinner or spending time together gardening.

Whenever there is an opportunity to get outdoors, do it; meal times, family gatherings and washing the dog are all opportunities to be outdoors.

Making a goal to spend 120 mins in nature each week is a good starting point that can set one on a path to increased health and well-being.

As the researchers noted in Scientific Reports, the benefits of such a simple act can be significant on both an individual and public health level: “In terms of magnitude, the association between health, well-being and 120 mins spent in nature a week, was similar to associations between health, well-being and: (a) living in an area of low Vs high deprivation; (b) being employed in a high Vs low social grade occupation; and (c) achieving Vs not achieving recommended levels of physical activity in the last week.

Given the widely stated importance of all these factors for health and well-being, I interpret the size of the nature relationship to be meaningful in terms of potential public health implications.”

Sounds easy, Yes?

A report commissioned by Velux, a window manufacturing company, revealed that 25% of Americans hardly ever go outside.

We are increasingly turning into a generation of indoor people where the only time we get daylight and fresh air midweek is on the commute to work or school,” Peter Foldbjerg, the head of daylight energy and indoor climate at Velux, said in a statement.

In another survey of 11,817 US adults and children, 25% of adults reported spending less than 2 hours in nature each week.

The Nature of Americans report described a significant gap between Americans’ interest in nature and their efforts and ability to pursue that interest.

There are numerous factors that contribute to the increasing disconnect between Americans and nature, the report highlighted 5 of the most prominent ones, as follows:

  1. Physical places, or a built environment, generally discourage contact with the natural world.
  2. Competing priorities for time, attention and money prevent contact with nature from becoming routine and habitual.
  3. Declining direct dependence on the natural world for livelihoods and subsistence allows Americans to orient their lives to other things.
  4. New technologies, especially electronic media, distract and captivate.
  5. Shifting expectations about what “good” contact to nature ought to be mean adults are generally satisfied with the relatively little time they spend outdoors in nature.

Watch How Forests Heal People

Go outside often, make it a priority.

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