This is your sign to stand up and get some fresh air.

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Stress is a feeling that many of us deal with every day, and that has likely increased in the past year due to the pandemic. It's imperative to practice social distancing and wear a face mask whenever you leave the house, but that doesn't mean you need to lock yourself inside all day long. Going outside for a bit and getting in some movement will help your physical and mental health. (Just make sure you're steering clear of others and, if necessary, put on your covering.) 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.

woman in nature
Credit: Kondratova Ekaterina/Getty Images

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.

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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