We are a busy, driven, success focused society. While this has many benefits when it comes to improving living conditions, comfort, and the ability to afford healthy food and behaviors, it also often comes with a list of costs. One of those costs is typically that it forces us to spend more and more of our time in the car, on the computer, on our phones, in the office, and caught up in the day-to-day activities that support the success that we seek. This inevitably means we have less time available to spend with our families, to develop hobbies and activities that we enjoy, and to spend outside enjoying nature. If you’re like me, you’ve often felt the benefits of spending a couple hours at the beach, on a hike, at the lake, or just in the neighborhood park. Having never put much thought into that feeling, however, I can’t say that I have made the connection that spending more time outside leads me to feel better. Thanks to researchers who published their findings in 2019, there is now some solid data to support this connection.
According to a study in Nature (found here), involving nearly 20,000 people, spending at least 120 minutes per week in nature (including parks, green-spaces, and beaches) is associated with improvements in self-reported health and well-being. The 2 hours can be spent all at once, or split up into as many chunks as needed. This finding, in particular, has been helpful in my practice as many of my patients are much more receptive to spending 10-15 minutes here and there outside, rather than trying to carve out a 2 hour block each week to spend in nature.
Results were consistent across age, sex, occupations, ethnic groups, SES, and people with long-term illnesses or disabilities. This universal applicability makes this an awesome and free intervention that has relatively good patient compliance potential. Health and wellness comes from many different angles, and we as a profession can and should use whatever we can to get our patients feeling better and help them to reach their goals. In addition, as more and more patients get on board with spending more time in nature, the positive effects are more likely to spread to their spouses, friends, and children. In this way, the work we do with our individual patients can play an important role in the overall health and well-being of the population as a whole. So get outside into nature this week and encourage your patients to do the same!