Spending Time Outside Can Lower Your Stress Levels In Just 20 Minutes, A New Study Shows

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When I started working from home, I enjoyed kicking off my mornings on the steps of my front porch with my morning cup of coffee. I’d breathe in the morning air and look for new buds on my hydrangeas. After so many years working in offices with little natural light, I found myself craving that little piece of bliss I’d created, and I’d step out there more and more throughout the day. Turns out I was onto something, because a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that just 20 minutes outside can significantly lower your stress hormones, according to a news release. The researchers say health care practitioners can use this new discovery to prescribe what they’re calling “nature pills” to help people lower their stress levels, the news release said.

The researchers define a “nature pill” as doing anything that makes you feel in contact with nature, the news release said, whether that’s taking a stroll or sitting somewhere that makes you feel like you’re in nature. For me, that’s simply sitting on my front porch, where I can breathe fresh air, feel the sunlight, and see my flowers. According to the news release, the researchers had participants take a nature pill for 10 minutes or more at least three times a week for eight weeks.

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The researchers then measured the participants levels of the stress hormone cortisol before and after each nature pill, the news release said, controlling for things that could affect their cortisol levels, like making sure the participants took their nature pills during the day and prohibiting aerobic exercise and the use of social media, the internet, phone calls, conversations, and reading. The researchers found that just 20 minutes in nature significantly reduced the participants’ cortisol levels, according to the news release.

"We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," Dr. MaryCarol Hunter, associate professor at the University of Michigan and lead author of study, said in a news release. "Our study shows that for the greatest payoff in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature."

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But getting out in nature isn’t just good for your stress levels. According to a 2018 report published in the journal Environmental Research, exposure to green space might reduce your risk of a variety of long-term health conditions. Researchers from the University of East Anglia gathered evidence from more than 140 studies involving 290 million people in the UK, United States, Spain, France, Germany, Australia, and Japan, according to the news release. Although a causal relationship between green spaces and health isn’t completely clear, they found that spending time in or living near green spaces was associated with significant health benefits, the news release said.

What is clear is that getting outside for a few minutes here or there might help you feel a little more relaxed. So if you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious, maybe try taking a “nature pill” to see if that helps you relax a little. It could be a simple way to reduce your stress levels when things get a little hectic.