A new study found immersing yourself in nature each week can help prevent chronic disease and improve mental well-being—and even calculated the amount of time that's most beneficial.

Lauren Wicks
June 13, 2019

You may not have heard that spending time in nature is associated with some pretty amazing health benefits, but it's true. From protection from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and obesity, to improved mental health, the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors are so great doctors are now prescribing visits to nature to their patients.

A team of researchers from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health set out to discover the parameters of these associations and just how much time we need to be spending in nature to truly reap the physical and mental health boosts. Their research found spending 120 minutes-or two hours-per week in nature is associated with significant levels of improved health and positive well-being.

Related: 7 Tips for Being Healthy and Active Outdoors

The research team analyzed almost 20,000 participants from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England from 2014-2016 for this study. They were asked "How is your health in general?" and could respond with "very bad," "bad," "fair," "good," or "very good." They also had to rank how satisfied they were with their lives on a scale of 1-10, and record their weekly activities.

Compared to those who had no nature contact in the week prior, those who spent 120 minutes or more outdoors each week had a significantly greater likelihood of reporting good health and high mental well-being. Positive associations peaked when people spent between 200-300 minutes (or between 3 and 5 hours) a week. Those who were in the woods longer had no greater benefits. It also didn't matter how the 120 minutes was achieved each week, whether that was a few long walks in the woods, or simply eating lunch outside every day.

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The Bottom Line

While this study shows association instead of causation-based evidence, the research lines up with dozens of other studies that find better mental and physical health come from regularly enjoying some fresh air. Chronic stress, heart disease, diabetes, and other prominent health conditions all seem to be positively impacted by simply getting some time outdoors, and it looks like we could all use more of it!

So if you can, try taking a lunch break outside when it's nice. Soak up some Vitamin D and get away from that desk chair. If you can find a few days a week to exercise outdoors, that's a double whammy, as regular exercise also boosts your mental and physical health. And if your schedule doesn't allow much time outdoors, take some time away from your latest Netflix binge this weekend and enjoy a picnic or hike with your loved ones!

Related: Too Much Stress? How It's Hurting Your Health in Surprising Ways