As Little as 10 Minutes in Nature Could Reduce Stress

You can go for a walk or sit on a tree stump; either way, spending time in the great outdoors will improve your state of being.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
March 16, 2020

Whenever my mother was really frustrated or stressed, she’d put on her duck boots and go for a walk in the woods behind our house. She would come back feeling calmer and ready to work through whatever issue was bothering her. Since then, I’ve associated nature with de-stressing. While there is no shortage of research backing this idea, a new study from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York found that even a very short period in nature — as few as 10 minutes — could help reduce stress.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, these findings are part of a larger research project on “nature therapy,” the goal of which is to come up with specific “dosages” of nature that doctors can prescribe to patients with depression, anxiety, and high levels of stress. Researchers found that even as little as 10 minutes in the great outdoors reaped mental health rewards.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

But, the optimal amount of time we should spend outdoors is 10 to 50 minutes, according to the study. “It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science, said in a statement.

And good news for those of us who aren’t exactly outdoorsy or sporty: The researchers also found that the ideal outdoor activities for de-stressing are walking and sitting (which just happen to be two things I excel at). 

But what about those of us who live in a city? Does sitting on my fire escape count? Though I’m not exactly sure about that, the study found that built spaces with trees and plants do provide the same benefits as being out in the woods. In a previous interview I did with Nina Smiley, Ph.D., the director of Mindfulness Programming at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, she said that those without easy access to nature could simply take a walk and pause when they find a tree, stopping for a moment to be present, and taking a few breaths. 

Thinking about the benefits of a walk through nature has been especially helpful for me over the last few weeks during the coronavirus outbreak. I’m fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood in Queens with plenty of trees, so I make a point of going for walks on the tree-lined streets. At this time of high stress and anxiety, it’s comforting to know that stepping outside for even just 10 minutes can improve my well-being.

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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