There is a crucial threshold of spending enough time in nature for the promotion of health and wellbeing, according to a new large scale study conducted by the University of Exeter, with researchers finding that the “sweet spot” is at least two hours per week.
The research, which has been published in Scientific Reports and funded by UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week.
However, no such benefits were found for people who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.
Data was collected from nearly 20,000 people in England, finding that it didn’t matter if the 120 minutes were in a single visit, or several shorter visits. It also found the 120 minute threshold applied to both men and women, to older and younger adults, across different occupational and ethnic groups, among those living in both affluent and less affluent areas, and even among people with long term illnesses or disabilities.
Lead researcher, Dr Mat White, who led the study, said: “It’s well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people’s health and wellbeing but until now we’ve not been able to say how much is enough.”
Most of the nature visits learnt about during the study took place close to the homes of those studied, demonstrating that visiting local urban greenspaces is effective.
“Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.” Dr White said.
The data for the research came from Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, the world’s largest study collecting data on people’s weekly contact with the natural world.
Co-author of the research, Professor Terry Hartig of Uppsala University in Sweden said: “There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family.
The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical”.
The full paper is entitled “Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing“, and has been published in Scientific Reports.