Get outside and immediately improve your health

A matter of minutes in nature can improve your health. So what are you waiting for?
Just 20 minutes in a forest can improve your blood pressure, your cortisol levels, your mood and creativity. (Michelle Parise)

Research shows that spending as little as 5 minutes in nature can have a positive impact on our health. So why are so many of us cooped up inside instead of going for a walk?

In her book, The Nature Fix, science writer Florence Williams traveled the world to find out, looking at the science behind why humans respond to being in nature.

Turns out, the effects can be quite dramatic.
Florence Williams (Sue Barr)

Williams describes how researchers in Japan took test subjects into forests for brief periods, and looked at the impacts on their sympathetic nervous systems.

"Blood pressure drops, their heart rate variability becomes more resilient when faced with stress, cortisol levels drop," she explains.

"The subjects report an increase in...mood, and vitality, and creativity. And that's just after 20 minutes!" 

She adds that control groups that walked in the city experienced markedly less of an of an impact, so it's about more than just getting exercise.

How much time in nature is enough?

Williams says it varies from person to person, and can also vary in the same person, depending on what's going on in their lives.

Researchers in Finland have found a specific "dose". They recommend we spend five hours a month in a forest.

"That seems to be the minimum dose that's required," she says, in order to, for example, help ward off depression.

We have great parks in North America. What we haven't done as well is making those parks and green spaces accessible for everyone.

If you don't happen to have woodlands nearby, don't worry.

You can even use a city park, Williams says, noting that the Finnish research mostly experimented using city parks.

If nature really does help improve our mental and physical well-being, then it's in the public interest to make sure we can all enjoy it. 

"We have great parks in North America," she argues. "What we haven't done as well is making those parks and green areas accessible for everyone," she points out.

"How do you make sure that schools, for example or office complexes or housing projects do a better job of bringing in and incorporating green spaces?"