Health & Wellness

The Open Air Is Good for Body and Mind

Spending time out in nature can make you happier and healthier, a new study says

Photo: iStock/klagyivik.

Spending at least two hours a week in nature will boost your physical and mental health, according to a new UK study.

The study results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, stem from questionnaires completed by 20,000 people in England. Researchers found that those who had spent at least two hours in nature during the preceding week were much more healthy and positive about their lives than those who hadn’t. The effect was consistent across age, income, and geographic lines, and even among those with long-term illnesses and disabilities as well.

Whether it’s spending time in parks, woods, or beaches itself that betters health is still up for debate, researchers say. They suggest it’s also possible that those who are already happy and healthy are simply more inclined to get out and spend more time in nature.

They also speculate that it’s the exercise that comes with spending time in nature that makes people feel healthier. According to a 2011 study, people consistently find exercising in nature more fulfilling than exercising inside or in an urban setting.

“Compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger, and depression, and increased energy,” researchers reported.

A 2010 study published in Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine looked at people’s physical and mental reactions to walks in the forest in comparison with walks in the city and found that the environment itself may play an important role.

“[Our] results show that forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments,” wrote the authors of the study, which examined the Japanese practice of “forest bathing.”

Ultimately where those good feelings come from is still uncertain, and researchers across the board agree that more research is needed to confirm findings and rule out other factors. Even so, it’s clear there’s a link between your wellness and how much green space is around you.