If you've noticed you feel better after spending time communing with Mother Nature, you're not imagining it, say researchers—and there's a sweet spot in terms of what amount of time confers the most benefits. Figure about two hours a week. Time spent outside has been tied to lowered stress and blood pressure, plus reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, among other conditions. Now, in a new study in the journal Scientific Reports, scientists asked nearly 20,000 subjects between 2014 and 2016 to document how much time they spent outside over the past week, as well as to self-report on their mental state afterward. The findings: Those who spent 60 or even 90 minutes in nature didn't see noticeable benefits in terms of well-being and health, but that changed at the 120-minute mark.
After two hours, "there were decreasing marginal returns until around 200–300 [minutes], when the relationship flattened or even dropped," the study notes. That two hours seems to be the optimal exposure time for almost everyone, no matter their gender, economic at status, or ethnicity, says Mathew P. White, the study's leader, telling the New York Times that consistency "really amazed us." Forbes notes it doesn't seem to matter whether people put in their 120 minutes in one chunk, or if they spread it out over a week's time. Meanwhile, some doctors have started writing outdoors prescriptions for their patients. "When you go to a park with your family, there are so many good things that happen," a California pediatrician tells the Times. "Children get to play and be physically active. They get to socialize, and they get some stress relief." As for adults? Same perks, she adds. (Read more nature stories.)