Anyone who’s watched a child run free in a forest or play in a stream doesn’t need a research study to tell them that spending time in nature is good for kids’ health.
“It’s something that most parents know intuitively. When kids have the chance to play free in nature, they’re happier, better behaved, and more connected socially,” said Carolyn Schuyler, founder and executive director of Wildrock, a nature play and discovery center in Virginia.
Most adults know that nature is good for them too — that’s why we often leave behind the stress of work to vacation in beautiful, natural places.
But how much time in nature do we need to be healthier?
A group led by researchers in the United Kingdom tried to answer that question, in what they describe as a first step toward coming up with a nature version of national physical activity guidelinesTrusted Source.
How much time in nature do you need?
In the study published today, researchers surveyed more than 19,000 people in the United Kingdom about the recreational time they spent in nature during the past week, along with their self-reported health and well-being.
They found that people who spent at least 120 minutes a week in nature saw a boost in their mental and physical health, compared to people who didn’t spend any time in nature.
The researchers say the size of the health benefits was similar to what people would get by meeting the guidelines for physical activity.
The benefits, though, were fairly small, accounting for only 1 percent of the differences between the different nature-time levels.
However, it didn’t matter how or where people racked up the 120 minutes — many short walks near home were just as effective as a longer hike on the weekend at a park.
The researchers point out that this is just a first step toward being able to recommend that people spend a certain amount of time each week in nature.
Other research, though, has shown that even small bouts in nature can provide health benefits.
In one study, people who exercised for just five minutes in nature saw boosts to their self-esteem and mood.
Schuyler sees this kind of quick transformation at Wildrock, even among adults with very stressful jobs.
“After an hour of being in nature, they’re laughing, foraging, and collecting things like they were 5 years old,” she said.