Sure, we’d all like to spend more time outdoors. But between classes, a social life, two jobs, extracurriculars and the occasional exercise, it’s hard to get a frequent fill of flora and fauna.
But new research from health practitioners at the University of Michigan says spending even a short time in nature could really be worth your while.
And at this point in summer school, we’re willing to try anything.
The study, published in the April edition of Frontiers in Psychology, found spending 20 to 30 minutes in a natural environment caused a significant drop in the production of the stress hormone Cortisol. Too much Cortisol can result in weight gain, thin and fragile skin, acne, and for some women, facial hair and irregular menstrual periods.
"We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of this research, told Science Daily.
The new finding could be particularly helpful for college students, who are dealing with record-high levels of stress, according to a 2018 study by researchers at Harvard Medical School.
The study asked participants to take spend 10 minutes or more walking or sitting in nature at least three times a week over an eight-week period. Levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured from saliva samples taken before and after a “nature pill,” once every two weeks.
Participants were allowed to choose the duration, time of day and location of their nature break, but there were some stipulations — no technology, no conversations, no phone calls, no reading and no aerobic exercise.
Researchers found that 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to nature was the optimal time to lower stress hormones. After that, benefits continue to add up, but at a slower rate.
Hunter told Science Daily that the study “provides the first estimates of how nature experiences impact stress levels in the context of normal daily life.”