Are you a fan of spending your lunch breaks in a park? Or do you walk your dog around them each morning and evening? Well, we have good news: spending just 20 minutes in a park every day will make you happier and less stressed – regardless of whether or not you’re exercising while you’re there.
Two new studies have touted the benefits of spending time in parks. The latest, from University of Michigan, suggests spending at least 20 minutes strolling or sitting in a place where you’re in contact with nature significantly lowers stress hormone levels.
Lead researcher MaryCarol Hunter said: “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. You don’t have to travel to the wildlands. Getting out of an office block and sitting next to a tree can be enough.”
A separate study from University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) researchers found people who visited their local urban parks felt happier. “Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional wellbeing after the park visit,” said lead researcher Hon Yuen. “We did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional wellbeing. Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional wellbeing.”
Participants of the study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, were adult visitors to one of the three urban parks in Alabama, US.
The results are perhaps unsurprising – multiple studies have previously highlighted the benefits of nature on a person’s mental health. A review of nature interventions for mental health care found nature-based activities contribute to a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and depression.
Meanwhile a separate study by King’s College London researchers found being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, looking at the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing. In some cases, these beneficial effects impacted people positively for up to seven hours afterwards.
Another piece of research, published today by Aarhus University, Denmark, suggested that children who grow up with greener surroundings have up to 55% less risk of developing various mental disorders later in life.
Much of the world’s population now live in cities and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates more than 450 million of the global human population suffer from a mental disorder – a number that is expected to increase.
All of these studies emphasise the need for designing greener cities for the future, and protecting our existing parks. “There is increasing pressure on green space within urban settings,” said Gavin Jenkins, co-author of the urban parks study. “Planners and developers look to replace green space with residential and commercial property.
“The challenge facing cities is that there is an increasing evidence about the value of city parks but we continue to see the demise of theses spaces.”