Nature soothes our stressed-out souls. We instinctively know that nature is the best prescription, but new research reveals how little time we need to set aside to reap the benefits.
The best part is that you don't have to hit up a national park or even go too far out of your way. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research found that spending 20 minutes in an urban park can make you happier, regardless of whether you use that time to exercise or not.
"Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional well-being after the park visit," the study's lead author and University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Hon K. Yuen said in a statement. "However, we did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional well-being. Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional well-being."
To get the emotional payoff, you could visit Luxembourg Gardens in Paris (shown above) or a much less elaborate green space in your neighborhood.
For the study, 94 adults visited three urban parks in Mountain Brook, Alabama, completing a questionnaire about their subjective well-being before and after their visit. An accelerometer tracked their physical activity. A visit of between 20 and 25 minutes demonstrated the best results, with a roughly 64 percent increase in the participants' self-reported well-being, even if they didn't move a great deal in the park.
This last point is particularly positive since it means that most anyone can benefit from visiting a nearby park, regardless of age or physical ability.
The study's co-author and another UAB professor, Gavin Jenkins, acknowledges that the study pool was small, but its findings pointed to the importance of urban parks.
"There is increasing pressure on green space within urban settings," Jenkins said in the statement. "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."