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Science prescribes 2 hours of nature for better living.

Two hours per week in nature will make you healthier, says a recent scientific study.

A survey of over 19,000 participants in the UK with a healthy range of “very bad”, to “very good” has shown that spending 2 hours per week in nature can actually improve your overall health and wellbeing.

The report, which was recently published in a health journal, Science Reports, followed a study over 2 years (2014-2016) where subjects recorded their weekly time spent in nature along with evidence of their health and wellbeing. Results showed those who spent more than 2 hours in nature per week were reportedly in better health and had a greater sense of wellbeing, naturally. 

And they’re not even suggesting pristine nature parks or isolated country estates. Just natural environments. Beaches, farmland, city parks, all qualify as nature. And the plus is, the study says whether the time is spent in small chunks over the week or one big hit, the benefits are still the same. Which is great news for people who work long hours? 

But hold up, you can’t count up the minutes you spend walking to get your 3 takeaway coffees a day or nipping up the shops. It has to be actually in nature. In fact, the survey specified “green”, or, “open spaces.”  Although exercising in nature is obviously going to be amazing for your health, reports say you don’t necessarily have to be active to reap the benefits. It might just be picnicking or sitting on a park bench. 

Two hours in a park, sounds pretty easy, but is it that straight forward? Or is the study may be a bit biased? 

You must question whether survey subjects are healthier because they spend time in nature, or are they out in nature because they’re healthy-type people?  It’s difficult to scientifically prove how all factors add up to one result in lifestyle surveys. For instance, anyone with a chronic illness is likely to be hospital or house-bound and therefore have less opportunity to reap the benefits of nature. Which might question the validity of the results.

However, experts have said that while it’s hard to quantify, this particular study covered most bases. Even those surveyed who were reportedly unhealthy still reported benefits of time in nature. Lecturer in rural health at the University of Tasmania, Dr Pauline Marsh, although a little dubious as to quantify the benefits, admits “time spent in nature” is never a bad thing to get out there.

“Any research that adds to adds to the body of knowledge around the positive impacts of nature on health and well-being is always very welcome,” Marsh told the ABC.

It’s a very positive report, despite some irony––the fact that economic, social and political barriers may actually be the deciding factor when it comes to those in reach of the valuable, “nature-dosing.” Dr Marsh even suggesting rich people have better access to natural environments. And how about age as a barrier? Residents of Aged Care homes or those with restricted mobility receiving care at home will find it difficult to get their nature does. And those living “interior lives” are probably the ones most in need of all the health benefits they can get.

So, how can we offer the health-boosting 2 hours to people facing social or physical barriers? Dr Marsh suggests more community green spaces would help. As too would making existing green spaces more accessible and inclusive for the elderly, and opening community green spaces up to the public and providing more seating, ensuring inclusivity.

The interesting thing will be the outcomes. Will the studying swing doctors worldwide to look closer into prescribing nature-doses as an alternative to conventional medicine––or at least to complement it? They have already started to in countries such as Sweden, South Korea and Scotland. All three countries have already political and social incentives in place to promote ‘getting outdoors’ as a health benefit, and part of routine patient care. Is Australia next? We certainly have enough wide open space!

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