written by: Kelley V Phillips, Outreach Coordinator
As I sat down to write about the health benefits of nature immersion, my mind sputtered to a halt. The cursor blinked impatiently for 10 minutes while the page, and my mind, remained blank. As the day went on, the clock on the wall chided me with each “tsk” of a second passing. Having reached my caffeine tolerance hours earlier, getting any meaningful work done became maddeningly futile. And then the irony became resoundingly clear: this creative weariness could be cured by the very subject I was struggling with. It was time to go outside.
Most of us have felt the mental fatigue that comes with constant demand for our attention. With the advent of ecopsychology, a field which explores the expanding emotional connection between people and the natural world, there’s mounting proof that spending time in nature is significantly linked to better moods and improved performance. The question is, how much is enough to achieve this finer outlook on life? Is a five-minute walk around the block really going to help?
The answer is yes and no. Studies from the American Psychological Association show that walking outdoors promotes greater active thinking and freer flow of ideas than sitting behind a computer indoors. Additionally, research from the University of Michigan has determined that even a short visit in the fresh air decreases the stress hormone cortisol. With your basic chemistry telling you it’s okay to relax, your mood, self-esteem and creativity improves.
However, a study of 20,000 people released last June found that it takes 120 minutes in green space per week to report consistently better psychological well-being. The team of researchers led by Michael White, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at the University of Executor and leading figure in ecopsychology, reported that anything less than 2 hours, whether all at once or broken up within the week, yielded no long-term benefits.
What is so special about this dosage? The Attention Restoration Theory devised in 1970 suggests the amount of attention needed to live and work in cities or other stressful environments takes substantially more effort to maintain over long periods of time than in natural settings. White’s report determined that 120 minutes is the minimum time needed in nature to balance out the pressure of those attention-demanding environments.
While the study’s conclusion reiterates that it can be different from person to person, 2 hours is especially effective because of its achievability. The timeline provides a framework that can be adapted to many lifestyles because of its cumulative effect over a multi-day period. Whether your time spent outdoors is changing a lunch break at your desk to a picnic in the park or a long hike during the weekend– 120 minutes is the magic number.
Other benefits that come from spending time in a park or nature preserve include better sleep, lower mental fatigue, reduced inflammation, improved focus and sharper memory. Immersing yourself in green space is single-handedly one of the best ways to boost your overall mental, emotional and physical health. Best of all, it’s free.
As we continue to roll into 2020, let’s all make a resolution together to spend more time outdoors. Whether that takes the form of hiking in any of Red-tail’s 10 public nature preserves, riding your bike along trails near the White River or taking 24 five-minute walks around the block, the science is there to prove you will feel better. If anything, you could have an easier time banishing the blank page and finally stop glaring at an impatiently blinking cursor.
For those of us who sometimes need help getting started, join Red-tail on the first day of spring, Saturday, March 21st, 9:30am at Munsee Woods for a “Wake Up, Woods” hike through a property that is rarely open to the public. This free, all-ages leisurely walk is one way to experience the woods as they wake up from a season of slumber and set the mood for your spring-time exploration in the coming months.
Kelley V Phillips is the Outreach Coordinator for Red-tail Land Conservancy. Her work in community engagement inspires excitement and wonder in nature through education and tangible experiences.