It is no secret that it is good to be in nature. Last year, researchers examined how often and how long one should spend time in forests or parks in order to effectively reduce everyday stress.
Take a deep breath, switch off, relax: when you walk through meadows and forests, this works particularly well. But very few of us manage to regularly integrate long hikes into their everyday lives. The good news is now: A short “bath” in nature is enough.
So far it was unclear how long you should go out into nature
Scientists from the US University of Michigan wanted to find out in a study in 2019 how high the dose of green should actually be in order to feel a stress-relieving effect. “We already know that spending time in nature reduces stress,” says study ecologist and lead author MaryCarol Hunter. “Up to now, however, it was unclear how long and how often one should go out into nature and also what kind of nature experience would benefit us.”
The researchers’ sights were on the one hand the stress hormone cortisol and on the other hand the enzyme alpha-amylase, which is increasingly released during stress. Chronic stress, and thus permanently elevated cortisol levels, can weaken the immune system and lead to cardiovascular diseases, depression and obesity, among other things.
Switch off stress factors like the cell phone
The study results were published in the specialist magazine “Frontiers in Psychology” released. For their study, the researchers encouraged 36 participants, including 33 women, to regularly experience nature – at least three walks per week of at least ten minutes each should be.
Another condition was to switch off some stress factors in advance: According to Hunter, the walk in the country should take place in daylight and without any sporting exercises. The volunteers had to forego internet, social media, conversation and reading and were not allowed to use their cell phones. However, the subjects were allowed to decide for themselves about the day, duration and location of the event.
It depends on the effective first 20-30 minutes
Before and after that, the participants had to give saliva samples so that the researchers could measure their cortisol levels and the level of the enzyme alpha-amylase. The result: After just 20 minutes the “natural pill” – as scientists call the experience of nature – the stress hormone was significantly reduced in the participants. Interestingly, the cortisol level continues to decrease after 30 minutes, but not as much as at the beginning.
In the case of alpha-amylase, there was only a measurable difference when the subjects hardly moved and, for example, sat on a bench. So it depends above all on the effective first 20-30 minutes that you spend sitting or walking in nature – a duration that should also be feasible for a regular walk after work. Especially for people who live in the noisy and hectic city, nature can offer an important balance to everyday stress – if they let themselves into the peace and ignore their smartphone.
In Japan people have long sworn by “forest bathing”
The researchers admit that the small number of participants is not yet sufficient to examine the effects in less than ten and over 30 minutes. Further studies are also necessary for a robust basis on which the “natural pill” could be prescribed. However, the research is not the first to show the positive effects nature has on our health: one came only recently large-scale study from Denmark found that people who spend their childhood surrounded by forests, parks or gardens have an up to 55 percent lower risk of developing mental illness.
A Japanese study found out that long walks in the forest increase the activity of our natural killer cells and thus strengthen the immune system. In Japan, people have long sworn by “shirin-yoku”, “forest bathing”, as an activity with a therapeutic effect. In Germany, among other things, the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich researched the health-promoting effects of the forest on the body and mind.
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