A recent study of 20,000 people published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that people who spend at least 120 minutes per week — that’s about 18 minutes a day — in nature are far more likely to report being in good health and having higher psychological well-being, as compared to those who don’t embrace nature. People who spent some time in nature, but fewer than 120 minutes a week, “were no more likely to report good health or high well-being than those who reported 0 minutes,” the study authors found.
You can break that 120 minutes up however you like — into one very long visit or shorter ones. And you don’t have to go deep into a forest: Parks, woodlands and beaches work too.
Whatever you do, this nature exposure is likely to have a big impact if you get enough of it: Those who spent 120 to 180 minutes in nature were roughly 20% more likely to say they had higher psychological well-being than their less-nature-exposed peers, and 60% more likely to say their health was good.
This research builds on numerous other studies that show that getting out into nature is a key to better physical and mental health. A study published in 2015 in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning found that, compared to those who took a 50-minute walk through an urban area, those who took a 50-minute walk in nature had decreased levels of anxiety and higher levels of happiness. And exposure to nature “reduces mental fatigue and the feelings of irritability that come with it,” according to a study published in Environment & Behavior.
Another 2015 study found that people who took an hour-and-a-half walk in nature vs. on a road had lower levels of rumination, in which you engage in repetitive thoughts focused on negative things. The nature walkers also “showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness,” according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It’s important to remember, however, that the Scientific Reports study doesn’t prove causality. People who go into nature a lot may already have a sunnier psychological disposition, for example.
Still, it’s a simple prescription that many of us can follow: Go green for at least 120 minutes a week and you may boost health and happiness. The authors write: “120 minutes contact with nature per week may reflect a kind of ‘threshold,’ below which there is insufficient contact to produce significant benefits to health and well-being.”