Those who love spending time in nature often provide a multitude of reasons why: the beauty of a wild place, the quiet and calm away from our increasingly urban lives, the fresh air and the ability to relax. What nature lovers describe without even knowing it is that nature is beneficial for their mental, emotional, and physical health.
Nature is good for our health – that is something we know through how we feel, but in recent years, doctors have made inroads into taking that knowledge we all feel is true and creating the data to back it up. Recently a study came out that demonstrated that 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing.
Why is this important? It’s another step closer to being able to prescribe nature as a true treatment. Before that happens, doctors have to prove it by answering key questions. Nature is good, but how much is needed? How much per day, week, month, makes a tangible difference?
In the linked article, these questions are examined under the idea of “exposure-response,” which looks at how much exposure to nature creates a measurable response in people. Subjects in the study self-reported their feelings on their current health and well-being after having no nature contact, some nature contact, and more nature contact. Through this reporting, researchers documented that health and well-being were significantly greater with nature contact greater than or equal to 120 minutes – just two hours! – a week.
Additionally, it did not matter how those two hours were spent, and the pattern of positive association was consistent across all groups, including older adults and those with long-term health issues. The strongest indicator of positive results was the subject’s proximity to green space access. They demonstrated that living in greener urban areas and neighborhoods helps lower the probability of many diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and mental distress.
Researchers examined the differences between “direct exposure” (measuring the amount of time actually spent outside) and “indirect exposure” (the amount of green space that is in the person’s neighborhood or the distance from their home to a park) and showed that people living in greener neighborhoods or with easy access to green space were more likely to use those spaces, and therefore benefit from them. In other words, the easier and more convenient it is to access nature, the more people it can help. Therefore, the more nature there is to access for all types of communities, the better!
To ensure a proper dosage could be determined, exposure levels were looked at in several ways. Participants were asked to report on exposure to nature for specific durations and frequencies (minutes/week), their personal situation when it came to accessing nature, and finally their specific demographic information such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc. This gave researchers a more complete picture regarding the relationship of their patients to nature, their access, and their ability to access nature consistently.
The data demonstrated that well-being increased at the tipping point of 120 minutes or greater per week. The takeaway was that 120 minutes of contact with nature per week reflects a kind of “threshold” – if a subject were to get under that amount a week, nature isn’t showing significant benefits, but get at or above that amount, and the benefits are tangible, significant, and reportable.
So what does this mean, and why is it important to the Center for Health and Nature, and Texan by Nature? The Center for Health and Nature, a partnership between Texan by Nature, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Texas A&M University, desires to prove that nature can serve as a healthcare delivery system (ie: nature can be used to help relieve symptoms or prevent diseases). Researching these questions and coming up with answers that encourage nature as a solution to health care issues is part of the central mission of the Center for Health and Nature.
The more data there is to back up this idea, the further policy, healthcare trends, and public health campaigns can be directed toward preserving nature as a vital element to our health – a win for all communities, and a win for conservation. Texan by Nature knows that our wild places that make this state so incredible are also what make the people so incredible, and the two work together for the prosperity of our communities. The work we do to preserve and enhance access to green spaces, to help people understand their importance and healing powers, help us make Texas even stronger for the future. We look forward to helping further the conversation and creating a case for nature as vital to our health and happiness as Texans!
Learn more about the Center for Health and Nature at centerforhealthandnature.org
Find out more benefits of health and nature by visiting our blog page.