How 20 minutes outside can reduce stress
May 1, 2019—Spending time outdoors can significantly reduce your stress levels, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology. This is the first study to focus on what dose of the so-called "nature pill" has the most benefit to people's health.
A study in stress
Researchers tracked the participants' stress levels over the course of eight weeks. They did so by measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Here's a summary of how the study progressed:
- Participants took outdoor breaks of at least 10 minutes 3 times per week.
- Every two weeks, scientists measured their cortisol levels before and after each break.
- The length, location and time of the participants' breaks were flexible. But they had to be during daylight hours and promote a feeling of being connected to nature.
- A few things were not allowed, however. These included aerobic exercise, conversations, using the internet and reading.
- Measuring cortisol several times helped account for differences between participants' normal stress levels. It also accounted for the natural decrease in cortisol over the course of the day.
The results showed that a 20-minute stint outdoors significantly reduced stress. Participants who spent up to a half hour enjoying nature saw even greater benefits. After 30 minutes, the benefits continued but at a slower rate.
This research may help healthcare providers prescribe the correct dose of the "nature pill" for patients with health issues related to spending too much time indoors and in front of screens.
Making the most of nature
So what's the best way to take advantage of this new finding? It can be as simple as going for a walk or sitting outdoors in a place that makes you feel connected to nature. And whether you stroll to the park at lunch time or sit in your garden each morning, it all counts.
To learn more about other methods for relieving stress, take our quiz.