The 20-5-3 Nature Prescription: How Much Time Should You Be Outside?

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It’s no secret that spending time in nature is good for your mind and body. Humans are designed to be connected to their natural environment, and when this connection is severed, as is often the case in the modern world, physical, emotional, and mental health suffers.

I’ve long advocated spending time outdoors every day to reap the benefits of adequate sunlight exposure. But even beyond sunlight, the natural world provides a place for humans to de-stress and connect in ways that don’t happen inside our four walls.

Michael Easter, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and author of The Comfort Crisis: Embracing Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, and Healthy Self, describes his time spent in the Alaskan wilderness as “transcendent.” ” states that it was.1 But Americans may spend up to 92% of their time indoors.2 You could be missing out on important benefits.

Still, the advice to “spend time outdoors” is vague, leaving many people wondering how much time they need in nature for optimal health and well-being. The 20-5-3 natural pyramid may provide some clarity.

20 minutes in nature 3 times a week

Dr. Rachel Hopman, a neuroscientist at Northeastern University, spoke to Easter about the Nature Pyramid, a simple guideline for how much time you should spend in nature. The bottom of the pyramid is 20 minutes. This is the amount of time he should aim to spend outdoors three times a week to boost memory, cognitive function, and sense of well-being.3 Levels of the stress hormone cortisol may also decrease.

It’s important to note that walking while using a cell phone did not have similar beneficial effects. However, just taking a walk outside can put your brain into “soft fascination” mode, which can have a meditative-like effect. Easter wrote:Four

“In nature, our brains go into a mode called ‘soft attraction.’ Hopman described it as a mindfulness-like state that restores and builds the resources needed to think, create, process information, and perform tasks.

A short daily nature walk or walk along a tree-lined path is a great option for people who don’t like sitting and focusing on their breathing. However, please turn off your cell phone. Soft enchantment mode can be deactivated by an alert from your mobile phone. ”

Other research by Hopman et al. found that spending time in natural environments, such as parks and forests, can improve your mood and help you think more clearly. When you concentrate on something, your brain uses up energy, like a dead battery. But nature is different. Nature gives your brain a rest because you don’t have to make as much effort to pay attention. Hopman’s study examined the brain waves of 29 people before, during, and after spending time in nature.Five

They found that a particular type of brain wave called posterior alpha wave power was lower when people were in nature compared to when they weren’t. This suggests that this brainwave change may help explain how living in nature affects our brains.

5 hours each month in semi-nature

The next part of the 20-5-3 rule refers to 5 hours. This is the amount of time you strive to spend semi-in nature each month. It’s not just the time you spend that matters, but the environment as well. Look for natural areas like state parks. You’ll have access to more natural spaces than your average city park.

Part of the sense of relaxation humans feel when immersed in nature may come from looking at fractals. According to a study published in the journal Urban Science, “Fractals are patterns that repeat at increasingly finer sizes, creating shapes with visually rich complexity. Clouds are common in nature. , trees, mountains, etc. are common examples, as are cauliflower and fern leaves.”6

Fractals are like repeating patterns, but they look slightly different each time they repeat. Most studies on how people respond to fractals use patterns that mimic patterns found in nature, rather than patterns that repeat exactly at different sizes. Researchers wondered: “Are we feeling better because of some kind of fractal, or especially because of fractals found in nature?”

To find out, one study looked at both types of fractals—those that mimic nature and those that repeat exactly—and gradually changed one for the other.7 They showed these patterns to 35 people and measured their brain activity. They found that people reacted differently to the two types of fractals, with fractals that looked like natural patterns more effective at helping people relax and concentrate.

“There are no fractals in cities,” Hopman told Easter. “Imagine a typical building. It’s usually flat and square. It’s painted a dull color.”8

3 days in nature every year

The last part of the 20-5-3 natural prescription covers 3 days. This is the number of days you should spend each year in remote areas of nature. Easter explains:9

“This is the top of the pyramid. Three days a year is the number of days you should spend off the grid (with friends or alone) camping in nature or renting a cabin. Think about it. Please stay away from areas where radio reception is unstable, wild animals are present, and hustle and bustle.

Spending time in this natural setting is like a long meditative retreat. The brain rides on alpha waves. Alpha waves are the same waves that increase when you meditate or enter a flow state. It resets your thinking, increases creativity, reduces burnout, and improves your mood. ”

In fact, after a week of river rafting, participants in one study experienced an average 29% reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, a 21% reduction in general stress, and improved social relationships and lifestyle. reported improved satisfaction, and social relationships. happiness.Ten,11 Researchers attributed the benefit to the awe experienced when being in nature. Easter described a similar feeling after spending time in nature:12

“I’ve experienced rough weather, crossed raging rivers, and faced a half-ton grizzly bear. My brain feels less like a typical hunkered down in a trench. I liken it to the state of a drunk roadrunner. After attending a meditation retreat for a month, my mind felt more like that of a monk. I just… felt better.

Biologist E. O. Wilson expressed what I felt: “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction. I am.”

Not enough time in nature poses health risks

Urbanized lifestyles, characterized by limited access to natural spaces, increased screen time, and increased work and academic pressures, are contributing to increased nature loss. This trend results in less leisure time outdoors and more time spent indoors.

Journalist Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe this phenomenon in his book The Last Child in the Woods.13 Although it is not a formal psychological diagnosis, it highlights how natural deprivation is associated with negative effects on psychological and physical health. Louv argues that when humans become disconnected from nature, we become less engaged with our senses, become less alert, and experience higher rates of physical and emotional illness.

Spending time outdoors is so fundamental to human life that even in maximum security prisons in the United States, inmates are guaranteed two hours of outdoor time each day. However, according to one study, 50% of children spend less than an hour outside each day.14 Proceedings of the Royal Society B further states:15

“Humans in developed countries spend much of their time indoors and in urban landscapes that bear little resemblance to the environments in which our species evolved. For example, a large-scale US-based study found that Studies suggest that Americans spend 87% of their time indoors, and an additional 6% of their time in their cars.

Living almost completely away from nature can result in a general disconnection from nature, which can have negative effects on environmental integrity and deprive individuals of the health and well-being benefits that nature provides. ”

Spending time in green and blue spaces is good for your health

Varying the amount of time you spend in natural environments, between green spaces such as forests and parks, and blue spaces such as rivers, lakes, and coastal areas, can also have significant benefits for your overall well-being. There is increasing awareness of the importance of both green and blue spaces.

Green and blue spaces share some characteristics, such as cooling effects and exposure to biodiversity, but they also offer unique experiences. For example, blue spaces, unlike green spaces, offer opportunities for recreational activities such as swimming and provide unique soundscapes such as the sound of water.

A team of researchers analyzed data from 18 countries and found that the greatest mental health benefits may come from exposure to different types of natural environments. Visiting green spaces, inland blue spaces, or coastal blue spaces within the past 4 weeks was positively associated with well-being and negatively associated with psychological distress.

Feeling a psychological connection to nature (known as nature connectedness) was similarly associated with mental health and was associated with a lower likelihood of using medication to treat depression .16 Another study observed that older adults with access to parks had better physical and psychological health, while those who frequented blue spaces also reported improved health.17

Another variable is exposure to specific places and sounds in nature, such as birds and their sounds. Research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London has found that these sweet melodies can have a lasting effect on mental health.18

The study was conducted from April 2018 to October 2021. There were 1,292 participants, mainly from the United Kingdom, European Union and United States. A mobile phone app called Urban Mind was used to collect real-time reports about participants’ mood and environment.

People with and without depression reported significantly improved mental health when seeing or hearing birds, compared to not seeing or hearing birds.19 The positive effect on mood lasted until the next app message, or up to 8 hours.20

Why I oppose this recommendation

I believe that the 20-5-3 law of nature is a weak attempt to specify the minimum requirements for being outdoors in the sun. I recognize that even at this incredibly low level, many people still fall short of this recommendation. This is a devastatingly sad commentary on how unhealthy our behavior has become.

Exposure to sunlight regularly every day has been a passion of mine for decades. This activity, practiced by almost all of our ancient ancestors, has many benefits. It was practically impossible to violate this, since the necessities of life forced almost everyone to be exposed to sunlight every day, instead of 20 minutes three times a week.

Even until the early 20th century, the most common occupation in the United States was that of a farmer, who spent most of the day outdoors. Today, almost all of us work indoors. Therefore, even if you live in a latitude that allows for healthy exposure to sunlight, most people are unable to go outdoors and are confined to their homes all day long.

I am a strong believer that most people should try to be outdoors for at least an hour each day. Ideally, that time should be around noon, when you can enjoy the benefits of UVB and near-infrared wavelengths. Not only does this increase your vitamin D, but it also increases the storage form of energy known as structured water, which can provide your body with energy when there’s no sun. exposure.

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