Want to Be Happy and Healthy? Science Says Do This 1 Pleasurable Thing (for About 17 Minutes per Day)

Your choice, actually: 17 minutes a day, or two hours all at once.

We all want to be happier and healthier, especially after the last few years we have all endured.   

So it’s good news when you find a science-backed suggestion that makes it more likely you’ll achieve your health goals. It’s even more gratifying when you the habit or change you need to make in your life is both enjoyable and fairly easy to accomplish.

Today’s installment in that happy collection: a study from the University of Exeter in England. A study there found people who spend at least two hours a week in nature were much more likely to report that they had good health and better psychological well-being than those who didn’t.

Here are the key takeaways from the study, published in Scientific Reports, which focused on the experiences of 19,806 people:

  1. Two hours was the cutoff. People who spent some lesser amount of time in nature — less than two hours a week — reported no correlative benefit whatsoever.
  2. Most of the study participants said that their nature exposure was close to where they lived — within two miles in most cases. “So even visiting local urban green spaces seems to be a good thing,” said Mathew White, a lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School who led the study. “Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”
  3. More outdoor time was good, but the added benefit continued only up to five or six hours per week. Once study participants hit that level, they no longer reported any additional increase in health or well-being.
  4. It didn’t matter how the time was split up: two hours in a single day, a smaller amount several days for the full week, etc. If you divide 120 minutes by seven days, you’ll get six 17-minute days plus an 18-minute outing. 

“We tentatively suggest, therefore, that 120 mins contact with nature per week may reflect a kind of ‘threshold,'” the report says, “below which there is insufficient contact to produce significant benefits to health and well-being, but above which such benefits become manifest.”

So, where does this leave us? I think with three main conclusions:

  • If you’re running a business, all other things being equal, look for locations where your employees can live near green spaces and nature. 
  • Two hours once a week — or 17 minutes a day, if that fits your schedule better — find time to get outdoors. 
  • Finally, the report says “it did not matter how the [120-minute] ‘threshold was achieved. … Some may prefer long walks on the weekend in locations further from home; while others may prefer regular shorter visits to parks in the local area.”

By Bill Murphy Jr.