People who spend at least two hours a week in nature are more likely to report good health or high levels of wellbeing. Picture: ABDULLAH USAME DENIZ/123RF
People who spend at least two hours a week in nature are more likely to report good health or high levels of wellbeing. Picture: ABDULLAH USAME DENIZ/123RF
Image: Abdullah Usame Deniz/123RF

If your mother told you to go play outside as a child because it’s good for you, she may have been onto something: spending time outdoors in a natural setting may be better for you than you thought when you were a child.

A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that spending two hours a week in nature may boost your health and psychological wellbeing. The catch? Spending said time in nature is only beneficial if it’s done for two or more hours a week.

According to the study, living in greener urban areas is associated with lower probabilities of a number of health ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, asthma, mental illness and obesity among adults. In children, it lowers risks of obesity and myopia.

Not disputing the positive results of spending time in nature, the researchers behind the study set out to answer questions around the finer details of spending time in nature such as: “How much time do we need in nature before we experience the benefits?”, “Can we have too much of a good thing?” and “Is it better to have lots of smaller encounters or one big one?”

They set out to answer these questions with the goal of developing recommended guidelines around how much time people should spend in nature, much like similar guidelines that suggest 150 minutes of physical activity per week is optimal or that five portions of fruits and vegetables per day are ideal for maintaining good health.

The researchers looked at the correlation between spending recreational time in nature and participants’ self-reported health and wellbeing using 60-minute intervals. They recorded responses across a range of demographics: men and women, older and younger adults, residents in rural and urban environments, wealthier and poorer communities and people with and without long-term illness or disabilities.

According to the study’s lead author, Mathew White, people who spent at least two hours a week in nature were more likely to report “good” health or “high” levels of well-being than people who spent no time in nature.

Taking it a step further, the researchers also argue that people who spent less than two hours in nature reported no significant gains.

“People who spent some time in nature, but less than two hours, were no more likely to report good health and wellbeing than those who had zero weekly exposure, suggesting that one can have too little. Further, after about five hours a week, there was some evidence of no additional benefits,” writes White. The benefits of spending time in nature are capped, they argue.

Using this logic, you may very well cancel your December beach holiday and opt instead to take a daily walk of 20 minutes through your neighbourhood park. After all, you are less likely to experience any increased wellbeing from waking up to the sound of the ocean or a fresh sea breeze for two weeks over Christmas after a gruelling year of work. The trees lining your city’s streets will suffice equally well.