Stress Dies Outdoors

Stressed out? Feeling overwhelmed? Many of us feel like we just can’t deal with everyday life anymore. Some people are actually trying to manage real crises and stress. It turns out that all of us would manage so much better if we did the same thing.

As it happens, just 10 minutes of exposure to a natural setting might help us manage our stress, feel happier and live a better life. At least that’s what an interdisciplinary team from Cornell University says.

According to their new research, spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help you feel happier and reduce the impact of both physical and mental stress.

The researchers were trying to identify the most achievable and “doable” dose of outdoor exposure that would act as a preventive measure against the stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that college students deal with. They published their findings in Frontiers in Psycholgy.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” said lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

In order to determine how much time students should be spending outside and what activities are optimal while out there, the team looked at various studies examining the effects of being in nature on college-aged people (no younger than 15 and no older than 30.) Their findings tell us that 10 to 50 minutes of exposure to natural spaces was the best for improving focus, mood and even physiological markers like heart rate and blood pressure.

“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” said co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

Sitting or walking outside provided the best positive effects from being outside. Both are easily accessible to the largest percentage of people. It’s the being in nature that matters most, apparently.

“We wanted to keep this access to nature as simple and achievable as possible,” says Rakow. “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”

Students at Cornell have lots of options for getting outside. For students and people in more urban settings, it may require the addition of green spaces to allow people the access to nature they need for stress relief. The time spent in the natural setting matters more than the setting itself, though.

“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” says Meredith. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”

The impetus for this work is a movement toward prescribing time in nature as a way to prevent or improve stress and anxiety, while also supporting physical and mental health outcomes. The researchers wanted to consider what “dose” would need to be prescribed to college-age students to show an effect. They are hoping that when it’s applied at universities, it becomes part of a student’s routine and is consumed in regular doses, like a pill.

“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal” says Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”

Get outside in nature and beat your stress. If you’re a city-dweller, find those spaces that fit the bill and be there. You’ll be happy you did!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Genevive R. Meredith, Donald A. Rakow, Erin R. B. Eldermire, Cecelia G. Madsen, Steven P. Shelley, Naomi A. Sachs. Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It: A Scoping Review. Frontiers in Psychology, 2020; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02942

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