I recently joined a small group of people from the University of Manchester library on my first proper hike in a long while at the weekend. We followed a very scenic route through The Carrs park in Wilmslow, following the path of the River Bollin, past Quarry Bank Mill (part of the National Trust), and then into Styal Country Park. Walking among trees and sitting down for lunch to the sound of a nearby stream brought a special sense of peace and calm that had a beneficial effect on the strong anxiety I had been feeling the previous day. I instantly appreciated the appeal of hiking and of spending time in nature in general. We were quite lucky with the weather and even the spell of rain towards the end, not to mention the fact I didn’t even have the appropriate footwear - I was wearing trainers (which I immediately noticed upon seeing the walking boots everyone else had on) - couldn’t dampen (pun entirely intended) my enjoyment of the hike. In fact, it was almost as if Mother Nature took pity on me with the timing of the rain, arriving perfectly towards the end of the walk, when we were back on flat, concrete ground to wash away the mud that had accumulated on my trainers……plus, I didn’t faceplant in the mud at any point. Victory! Being unaware of just how close the park is to Manchester Airport, seeing the planes take off from the runway was an unexpected bonus. We ended our walk by dropping into a conveniently located pub and refuelling with drinks and chips before heading to the station. By the time we were on the train back to Piccadilly, I had well and truly reached my social limit but certainly felt refreshed and reinvigorated.
The next day, I was not surprised to read an online article that I had coincidentally came across, which was based on a scientific journal paper and said how spending 2 hours in nature per week is good for our wellbeing and health. With the tranquil memories of the previous day still fresh in my memory, I could certainly believe the findings from my (admittedly limited) experience but they also seem to fit a broader pattern with the rise in ecotherapy. The article is from a Spanish news outlet (La Vanguardia) that I follow and naturally, is in Spanish but having spent a month in Barcelona several summers ago, I try to keep up my level of Spanish. So one of the things I enjoy doing whenever I have the time is to read articles related to my 2 main areas of interest, namely psychology and wellbeing, and not only learn new words in the process but also see what extra wisdom I can glean from them. The article is quite short so I thought I might as well try to translate the whole thing rather than do a summary. This is the link to it for those interested:
If there are any Spanish speakers reading this, feel free to comment on any parts that could be better translated! I know I’ve probably translated some words a little too literally. So apologies if it’s a little clunky to read in places for native speakers but hopefully the gist of the message still comes across!
2 hours in nature a week: the key to wellbeing and health
A British study shows that people who spend more than 120 minutes weekly in the natural environment have a better chance of being healthy.
Breathing clean air, walking through a forest, enjoying the scenery….. In general, being in contact with nature is associated with frequency of personal wellbeing and health but is there a minimum dose that is necessary to detect the effects of this medicine?
A team of researchers from the School of Medicine from the University of Exeter (United Kingdom) and the University of Uppsala (Sweden) seem to have hit upon the formula. According to a paper published this week in the journal, Scientific Reports, spending at least 2 hours a week in nature can be a necessary threshold to obtain health and personal wellbeing.
Specifically, the team led by Dr Matthew P. White show that the people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature per week have a significantly greater probability of reporting good health and better psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all. However, such benefits are not found for people who visit natural surroundings like urban parks, forests, rural parks and beaches for less than 120 minutes a week.
The study used data from almost 20,000 people resident in different cities in the UK and found that it didn’t matter if the 120 minutes was achieved in a single visit or in several shorter visits. It also discovered that the threshold of 120 minutes applied as much to men as to women, to older adults and young people, across different occupational and ethnic groups, between those who live in rich and poor areas, and even amongst people with illnesses and long-term disabilities.
Mathew White highlights that “it is well known that going outdoors in nature can be good for the health and wellbeing of people but until now, we hadn’t been able to give a concrete figure to detect these effects”, according to a statement by the University of Exeter.
The majority of the visits to nature in this investigation were carried out only 3 kilometres from home, so even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be something positive, the authors of the study point out. “We hope that 2 hours a week is a realistic objective for many people, especially given that it can be distributed in a whole week in order to obtain the benefits,'' suggests Professor White.
The popular Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan (FilippoBacci / Getty Images)
One of the co-authors of the investigation, Professor Terry Hartig, of the University of Uppsala, emphasises that “there are many reasons why spending time in nature can be good for health and wellbeing, including aspects such as having a perspective of the circumstances of life, reducing stress and enjoying moments of quality of life”.
The conclusions of this study “offer valuable support to health professionals to make recommendations about how to spend time in nature in order to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to the guidelines for the weekly physical examination”, Dr. Terry Hartig highlights.
So we all now have an official scientific excuse to go out in search of our nearest green spaces and enjoy all the health benefits that Mother Nature brings!