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  • Writer's pictureGreta Buyck Parkinson

What prescription is free, easily attainable, and benefits both your body and mind?

How often did we hear our mother's say " Go outside and play?" For many of us, we didn't need that encouragement. It was what we did in our free time, often not coming back inside until the appointed time for dinner. I imagine we look back at those days with fond memories and perhaps a desire to return to those carefree times. Flash forward to today...we and our children are overscheduled, overworked, and what free time we enjoy is often spent on our phones, texting, responding to emails, checking social media, and googling answers to whatever perplexity crosses our minds. We are alarmed by the news about rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and mental health issues, for both children and adults. What's behind this, we wonder? Is it too much junk food, less exercise, too much time sitting looking at our phones, watching television. or playing computer games?

When we encounter the stresses of everyday life, brought on by being overworked, overscheduled, and overly distracted by social media and texting, the primary stress hormone cortisol builds up in our bodies. The prolonged effects of this cortisol in our bloodstream can have negative impacts on our physical and mental health. Chronic stress is taking its toll on the young and old.

Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study that showed spending at least 20 minutes a day in nature, sitting or strolling, significantly lowered the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Up until now, researchers were aware that there were benefits to spending time in nature, but this is the first study to evaluate how much time in nature and what kind of experience produced benefits. The participants were free to choose the time of day and the location, as long as they felt they were interacting with nature. The only constraints were that they must be sitting or walking in nature, no aerobic exercise, they were to avoid using their phones for any purpose, and they were to refrain from having conversations. This study provides the first estimates of how time in nature can impact stress hormone levels in the context of our daily lives.

Bottom line: To reduce the negative effects of daily stress on our body, put down those phones and take a dose of nature. It is free, available, and is beneficial for your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Frontiers in Psychology,2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722

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