We need to stay in touch with the natural world, if only sporadically, for our mental and emotional wellbeing.
For millions upon millions of people living in dense urban jungles with barely any greenery around nature has been pretty much reduced to what is on National Geographic and other television channels. That and potted plants on windowsills or small parks in the neighborhood.
Yet we need to stay in touch with the natural world regularly for our mental and emotional wellbeing. Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that that people who spend at least two hours a week in natural settings like forests or larger city park are far more likely to say they are in good health physically and psychologically than people who do not leave urban surroundings regularly.
A few minutes in any patch of random green space won’t do, however. The researchers say they found no marked health and psychological benefits for people “who visited natural settings such as town parks, woodlands, country parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.”
For a study published in Scientific Report, the scientists surveyed nearly 20,000 people in England. They found that in order for nature to boost people’s self-perceived wellbeing it didn’t matter whether they spent those two hours a week in a natural setting during a single visit or over several shorter visits.
The 120-minute threshold applies to a wide selection of society: men and women, young people and older people, richer and poorer people, and members of various ethnic groups.
“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,” notes Dr. Mathew White, a lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, who led the study.
“The majority of nature visits in [our] research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing,” he adds. “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.”