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Why Getting Outside Is a Natural Stress Reliever

A quick, easy way to lower your stress hormone cortisol levels

Young man relaxing outdoors

A scientific study published this spring recommends something that each and every one of us should be able to do for our mental well-being—spend 20 minutes in an outdoor space on a regular basis. Any outdoor space will do, from a park to a backyard to a pond or stream. And all you have to do is stand, sit or stroll in the natural area.

When you do, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, your levels of the stress hormone cortisol will be measurably lower.

The research, which was conducted by lead author MaryCarol Hunter and her team, required 36 participants to have an NE (“nature experience”) of their choosing for 10 minutes or more at least three times a week for eight weeks. Using a test that measures hormone levels in saliva, the researchers were able to see the impact of the outdoor time—participants took the test four times each day so the cumulative impact of the cortisol drop could be recorded.

The findings showed reduced cortisol levels—and accompanying lower reported stress levels—in the participants whose time in nature lasted 20 to 30 minutes during each “dose.” Hunter wrote that she hopes the research will encourage medical professionals to recommend time in nature to their patients as an evidence-based stress management strategy—one that can fit into their everyday lives. Designers of residential developments, towns and cities can also use the research as an impetus to incorporate natural elements into their projects, places where people can easily spend some time outside.

Twenty minutes of sitting on your front steps, walking to the mailbox or contemplating a tree—according to Hunter’s findings, those brief moments can make a measurable difference in your ability to manage daily stress.

Have you ever felt a noticeable change after being outdoors for a short time?

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