Just 5 minutes doing something in a park, in the woods or even in your backyard can boost mental health, a new study finds.
Many studies have shown that spending active time in the great outdoors is good for the mind. Humans have a deep-seated need for contact with nature, which researchers theorize provides relaxing down time for a brain that is otherwise overtaxed by modern pressures.
But how much time is required?
Researchers studied data on 1,252 people drawn from 10 separate studies in the UK. They analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming. The largest positive effect on self-esteem came from a five-minute dose, they conclude.
“For the first time in the scientific literature, we have been able to show dose-response relationships for the positive effects of nature on human mental health,” said University of Essex researcher Jules Pretty.
Other scientists have suggested that, in general,humans should play more, tapping into need for lightheartedness that goes back to our caveman days.
In the new study, the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally-ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. All natural environments were beneficial, including parks in urban settings. Green areas with water were even more beneficial, the scientists said.
“We believe that there would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate more with green exercise,” said co-researcher Jo Barton.
The findings are detailed in American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology.