Two hours in nature key dose for health, wellbeing

Spending at least two hours a week in nature may be a crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England, funded by the National Institute for Health Research, looked at data from nearly 20,000 people who participated in the Monitor of Engagement with the National Environment survey, a large study collecting data on people's weekly contact with the natural world. They 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.

The researchers found it didn't matter whether the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or over 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 rich and poor areas, and among people with long term illnesses or disabilities. 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, according to the study abstract.

Mat White, PhD, of the University of Exeter Medical School lead author and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School said it is 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.

“The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing,” he said in a statement. “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."

There is growing evidence that merely living in a greener neighborhood can be good for health, for instance by reducing air pollution, according to Terry Hartig, PhD, MPH, co-author and professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.

"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,” he said. “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 [activity].”