Taking a stroll or sitting in a place near nature can have some very positive benefits. The findings from a recent study have established for the first time that communing with nature will significantly lower stress hormone levels.
“Nature pills” which is what the discovery is calling the natural stress relieving remedy of being in nature, has real measurable effect. An experiment was designed that would give the researchers a realistic estimate of an effective dose for relieving stress hormone levels.
Participants were asked to engage in a 10 minute or more nature pill three times a week for a period of 8 weeks. Levels of cortisol which is a stress hormone, were measured using saliva samples which were take before and after a nature pill once every two weeks.
The participants were able to choose the time of day, the duration and the place of their nature experience. The chosen place was defined as any place outside that in the participant’s opinion made them feel like they have interacted with nature.
There were just a few constraints put in place to minimize factors which are known to influence stress. They included taking the nature pill during daylight, no aerobic exercise, and to avoid internet, phone calls, social media, reading and conversations.
By building personal flexibility in their experiment, the research team was able to identify the optimal duration of a participant’s nature pill – no matter where or when the nature pill was taken and under normal circumstances of modern life which can be hectic and unpredictable.
Furthermore, to make allowances for participant’s busy lifestyles and also provide meaningful results, the design was also novel in other aspects. Day to day differences in participant’s stress status were accommodated day to day.
The team did this by collecting four snapshots of cortisol change due to a nature pill. That also allowed them to identify and account for any impact of the ongoing, natural drop in cortisol levels as a day goes on. This resulted in a more reliable estimate of the effective duration.
The results of the data revealed that just a mere twenty minutes of a nature experience was sufficient to significantly reduce levels of cortisol. The results also showed that spending even a little more time immersed in the nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes walking or sitting, caused levels of cortisol dropped at their greatest rate.
The experiment gives healthcare practitioners great results as an evidence based rule of thumb on what to include in a nature pill prescription. The studies results provide the first estimates of how experiences in nature impact our stress levels in the context of a normal day.
The experiment’s approach might be used as a tool for further study in this area. Further studies could assess how gender, age, physical ability, seasonality and culture influence the effectiveness of nature experiences in regards to well being. These additional studies could help healthcare practitioners develop customized nature pill prescriptions as well as deeper insights into city designs and well being programs for the public.
To view the original scientific study click below.