Spending 2 Hours Outside May Be the Next Wellness Trend  

Shandra Martinez

| 3 min read

Elderly grandmother in wheelchair with an adult granddaughter outside in spring nature.
We all have friends or relatives who are focused on how many steps they’re taking each day. They use fitness watches, wristbands or the health tracker apps on their phones to tally every morning walk, trip through the grocery store aisles and errand run into town. Their goal is that magical 10,000-step mark that many people see as the ultimate daily exercise benchmark. But now there’s a new health trend that suggests spending two hours outside just might be the next 10,000 steps.
The buzz over time spent outside has been building recently, as evidenced by a popular Wall Street Journal article that laid out how spending time outdoors is important for good mental and physical health – and can even help you live longer. In the article, a Stanford University environmental science professor talked about the expanding field of research into the need for people to connect with nature. Our increasingly inside lifestyle coupled with the pandemic shut-downs of the last year brought this need to the forefront.
Why nature is good for your body: Research has shown that spending a couple hours outdoors each day has an immediate effect on our health. It’s linked to a lower heart rate and stress levels, a decrease in anxiety levels and blood pressure. Time in nature also can mean less inflammation – a key ingredient in chronic health problems – and fewer bouts of depression and fatigue for some people.
Time in nature does not mean a walk through a busy downtown while talking on your phone or texting your friends. It means spending some tech-free time in the woods, a park near your house, or even a trail that runs through a forest or a field. This practice, called “forest bathing” by the Japanese – has gotten a lot of attention lately from advocates who urge people to slow down and unplug as a way to get healthier.
Pencil in some forest bathing: How much time outside does it take to make the average person feel good? You might not really need two hours a day, research has shown. A study initially published in Nature’s Scientific Reports found that when asking people to measure their sense of overall well-being after spending time in nature, it took most people about two hours to reach that feeling of contentment. In that experiment, participants stretched their time outside over a one-week window, with positive feelings peaking at the five-hour mark. The results showing 120 minutes as the minimum feel-good time outdoors were true for men and women, regardless of age or ability level. It also didn’t matter whether people spent their hours outdoors all at once or broke that time up into shorter stints during the week, according to the study.
Doctor’s orders and new apps: To help people keep track of their time spent outdoors – much like the fitness features that total your daily steps – tech developers are working on apps that allow people to add up their nature hours. Some doctors in the United States have also joined those in Scotland, Canada and elsewhere in prescribing outdoor time to their patients. This type of encouragement is supported by Park Prescriptions programs, which are a collaborative effort between local and national parks, healthcare providers, communities and other agencies. It underscores the idea that any time spent in nature is a boost for your health.
Photo credit: Getty

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