A 2019 study found that taking a 'nature pill' every day will put your mind at ease.

By Andrea Beck and Jenny Krane
Updated March 18, 2020
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The new coronavirus has forced everyone to make significant changes to their daily routine. Many people are working from home, practicing social distancing, and avoiding unnecessary trips to prevent the virus from spreading. But social distancing doesn't mean you should lock yourself in your home all day. It's important to still go outside when you can for a walk or to sit on your patio (just try to stay at least six feet away from others). A 2019 study conducted by the University of Michigan set out to determine how stress and spending time outside are related and found that just a few minutes outdoors can lower stress and improve your mood.

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This study found that taking 20 minutes to walk or sit in nature significantly lowers your stress hormone (or cortisol) levels. The researchers are calling this chunk of time spent in contact with nature a 'nature pill.' This dose of nature is measurable and allows healthcare professionals to prescribe with the knowledge that they affect their patients like a dose of a medication.

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Stress can cause a multitude of problems for your mental and physical health. According to the American Institute of Stress, stress can raise blood pressure, trigger tension headaches, cause irregular breathing, give you acid reflux, and increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Chronic stress can also increase feelings of depression, trigger panic attacks, and make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

The overarching message: Stress throws your whole body out of whack. That’s why these researchers went searching for an effective stress-buster.

The participants of the study were observed over an eight-week period and were asked to spend 10+ minutes outside at least three times a week. Each participants’ cortisol levels were measured before and after a 'nature pill' once every two weeks.

Those observed had the freedom to choose what time of day they took their 'nature pill', where they took it, and for how long. There were a few constraints: The participants needed to take their 'nature pill' during daylight, they needed to avoid external interaction (phone calls, conversations, social media), and their time outside wasn't accompanied by aerobic exercise.

The data showed that between 20 and 30 minutes in nature was the sweet spot for significantly reducing cortisol levels. After 30 minutes, cortisol levels still dropped but at a slower rate.

Especially now that everyone is practicing social distancing, try to take just 20 minutes out of your day to reconnect with Mother Nature. You could eat your lunch outside if the weather's nice, or go for a quick stroll around the neighborhood before dinner. It'll help your mind in the long run, and give you a break from staying indoors.

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