A prescription for going outside
Your doctor has probably never prescribed you “outdoor time.” The thought of it sounds like a joke Jerry Seinfeld would make about being sent to the yard in prison. But that may change soon.
Researchers recently reported in a cross-sectional study that those who spend at least 120 minutes out in nature each week were more likely to report good health and high life satisfaction. In the study, about 20,000 subjects in the U.K. were surveyed about their health habits in order to get a “snapshot” of their lives for the previous seven days. The group was then compared to people who spent no time in nature and to people who spent at least 120 minutes in nature. The benefits continued to increase up until they reported 200–300 minutes per week outside. More than 300 minutes a week outdoors didn’t offer any additional health or satisfaction.
The investigators defined nature broadly as “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside including farmland, woodland, hills and rivers.” The researchers controlled for other things that could have affected the subjects’ perception of their own health and life satisfaction, like physical activity and “residential greenspace,” which is the space around a participant’s house itself. Even after controlling for those confounders, spending time outside was associated with a benefit about as big as what can be expected from regular physical activity.
Even after controlling for those confounders, spending time outside was associated with a benefit about as big as what can be expected from regular physical activity.
Confirming what we already know
This is not a new finding. Research published in the 1980s showed that surgical patients in the hospital used fewer pain medications if they had a window that looked out on green space. And multiple experiments show that people find walks in nature more restorative than indoor walks. So powerful is the association between exposure to the natural world and our health that a term has been proposed for it: psychoterratic, meaning “earth related (terra) mental health (psyche) states or conditions.”
The Kansas Business Group on Health is working to define common goals among our membership. We believe urban design that gives people access to safe, well-lit, attractive places to experience the outdoor world may be one of those goals. With the guidance of our Advisory Council, we hope to refine what advocacy toward that goal looks like. For example, Wichita is notoriously “under-parked,” with under 5% of the city’s area devoted to parks, compared to 9.1% in Kansas City, 6.9% in Oklahoma City, and 7.6% in Tulsa. A push for more green space should happen alongside advocacy for new street designs and changes to how we park cars. In the meantime, though, businesses can make employees happier and more productive by giving them access to green space, even if it’s through a window.