Half-hour 'nature pill' found to significantly reduce cortisol levels

Past studies have found that exposure to nature can have a calming effect on people who are stressed out, but questions remain over how much exposure is necessary to get any sort of beneficial effect. Newly published research offers one potential answer, indicating that we could greatly benefit from walking in the park on a lunch break or spending the evening sitting in a garden.

The definition of "being in nature," in this case, is simply spending time in an environment where you feel connected with the natural world around you. This could include taking a stroll through a park, sitting in a garden, or similar moments in the world beyond bland suburban and urban environments.

What's the best "dose" of nature for reducing stress? According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, it only takes 20 to 30 minutes of nature exposure to "significant lower" one's stress hormone levels, specifically cortisol. In turn, decreases in cortisol levels have been linked to improved well-being in a large number of past studies.

The study took place over an 8-week period and tasked participants with spending 10 or more minutes in nature at least three times per week. Participants' cortisol levels were measured both before and after nature exposure, the duration and days of which they were free to choose themselves.

The only limits put on the nature exposure included requiring it to be in daylight hours and in the absence of other activities like talking, reading, or using a mobile device. The results showed that a 20-minute "nature pill" was adequate for drastically reducing cortisol levels. However, spending 20 to 30 minutes immersed in nature had the most positive effect on stress levels.