Research has long shown that being out in nature can help to reduce stress levels and reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. But according to a new study, you don’t need to go on a week-long vacation in the mountains to reduce stress or explore all of Alaska’s 3.2 million acres of land and water. You just need 20 minutes.
A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that people who go outside for just 20 minutes a day at any age can greatly decrease their stress levels.
Researchers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, aimed to determine the relationship between stress reduction and the duration of a nature experience. They focused on two physiological biomarkers of stress: salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase.
During an 8-week study period, 36 participants who lived in cities were asked to have a nature experience, which was defined as time spent outdoors that brings a sense of contact with nature. Participants were asked to do this three times a week for a duration of 10 minutes or more.
The participants provided saliva samples both before and after their nature experience four times over the course of the study.
Researchers found that a nature experience produced a 21.3% per hour drop in salivary cortisol after adjusting for the cortisol’s normal 11.7% diurnal drop. Participants experienced the most stress reduction when they spent 20 to 30 minutes outside. Benefits from the nature experience continued to increase after 30 minutes, but at a reduced rate.
There was a 28.1% per hour drop in salivary alpha-amylase after adjusting for its diurnal rise of 2.5% per hour. However, this drop was only experienced by participants who were the least active, which included sitting or sitting with some walking. Participants’ activity type had no influence on their cortisol response.
Researchers say the methods for this study break new ground because they address some of the complexities of measuring an effective dose of nature in the context of normal, everyday life. The millennials who drank 42% of all wine in the U.S. during 2015 may say differently, but facts are facts.
Being out in nature has proven to be beneficial for those with high-stress levels, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and social anxiety. Even art in the office can reduce stress, according to 78% of employees surveyed. However, nature and art can’t replace professional help. It’s recommended to see a mental health professional if your symptoms are serious.
For those who are feeling a little down, it’s worth considering adding a daily walk on a local hiking trail to your everyday activities or to go on a bike ride in the park instead of hitting the gym. The goal is to find a nature experience you enjoy. For instance, there are approximately 11.6 million youth participants in fishing in 2017.
“Even when I find I don’t have enough time, just getting out on a quick hike never feels like I spent it poorly,” said Donald Schmit, a coordinator at the Outdoor Recreation Center, who wasn’t involved in the study. “It usually makes me feel a little more relaxed and focused on what I need to do the rest of the day to where I’m much more productive.”