Feeling Stressed? Take a 20-Minute Walk in Nature

A 20-minute walk in nature helps to alleviate the stresses of the day, according to a study. (William Dotinga / CNS)

(CN) – Getting in touch with nature is a great way to balance oneself and while it may sound like a forehead-slapping obvious approach to reducing stress, a new study says people should take a chill pill in nature every once in a while.

The pills in question are actually a recommended 20-minute stroll or pleasant sit outdoors.

Health care providers can say with a straight face that their patients should take one of these “nature-pills” to lower stress hormone levels and provide relief from an indoor lifestyle dominated by screen viewing, according to the study published in Frontiers in Psychology on Thursday.

Researchers studied the effects of a 10-minute or more walk at least three times a week on a person’s cortisol levels. Over the study’s 8-week testing period, participants had their stress hormones measured from their saliva before and after their walks.

Scientists discovered that while 20 minutes was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels, they dropped at their greatest rate between 20 and 30 minutes outdoors.

There was no exact science behind when the participants took their walks, says lead researcher Mary Carol Hunter with the University of Michigan.

“There were a few constraints to minimize factors known to influence stress: take the nature pill in daylight, no aerobic exercise, and avoid the use of social media, internet, phone calls, conversations and reading,” Hunter explains.

The average American adult spends about 11 hours a day watching, reading, or interacting with some form of media, according to a 2018 study from market-research group Nielsen.

Modern life sure can be hectic, but during the test period researchers took multiple snapshots of each participant’s day so they could get a better idea of the natural peaks and valleys of a person’s stress levels separate from the nature pill.

Hunter says the study can give doctors a good estimate on what they can recommend to their patients for a healthy lifestyle.

“Our experimental approach can be used as a tool to assess how age, gender, seasonality, physical ability and culture influences the effectiveness of nature experiences on well-being. This will allow customized nature pill prescriptions, as well as a deeper insight on how to design cities and wellbeing programs for the public,” Hunter said.

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