Understanding how much nature you need to improve your wellbeing

Have you ever wondered how much nature can impact your wellbeing? As I was reading The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, she discusses how nature impacts you and how much time you need to spend in nature to see benefits. She traveled all over the world to learn about scientific studies focusing on measuring the benefits of nature, and she shares all the details with you!

Photo by Lukasz Szmigiel | Accessed on Unsplash.com

Main impacts

These are the key points that stood out to me:

  1. Every little bit helps (but aim for more)
  2. Aim for 5 hours a month
  3. Benefits are seen on a curve

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

Every little bit helps (but aim for more)

At the core of this book, I felt like the message was that every bit of nature you can experience can help you, but always aim for more. Not everyone has the same access to nature, and for many people nature is largely inaccessible, but every glimpse of nature helps.

You may just get little bursts of nature, like trees throughout the city, and this can help, but you ideally want to aim for more nature and for longer periods. Getting out into nature in any sense, a bit of a park, or even driving down a street with more trees can help you feel better and improve your well-being. Generally, the most pleasing nature to us are scenes of trees and water, they seem to have the greatest impact on our mind.

When out in nature, you want to embrace all five senses (see, hear, smell, touch, and taste (something like herbal tea)). The more senses you can use when out in nature, the more immersive the experience is and the more you may benefit from it.

If you have limited access to nature, virtual experience can also help (but will not fully replace the real thing). Images of nature or landscapes can produce a calming effect, listening to bird sounds can stimulate your brain almost like you’re in nature – it’s has both patterns and diversity in the sounds which has a similar effect as listening to music. Even the smell of essential oils can help replicate some of the nature experience. Basically think of how to use all five senses.

Aim for 5 hours a month

The suggested goal is to aim for at least 5 hours in nature a month. This can be as simple as going to a park for an hour on the weekend, or going out for a walk a few times a week if you have some nature nearby.

In addition to the 5 hours a month, you also want to try and get longer periods of time in nature throughout the year. Generally, if you can get half a day or most of a day every few months, and then a few days consecutively in nature once a year that will help supplement the small bursts of nature.

To summarize, ideally you would get:

  • at least 5 hours a month in nature
  • with a full/half day in nature every few months
  • and a few consecutive days (immersive experience) every year.

Any amount of time in nature can help, and the five hours a month kind of sustains you throughout normal life. Then the longer periods of time give you more of a reset or a greater sense of restoration/healing. Longer periods in nature have a different impact on you because you are able to stay in the relaxed/calm state for longer, so the impacts tend to be longer lasting.

But don’t fret if you can’t spend this much time in nature at the moment. It’s not always easy to get out in nature, especially if you’re living in a city. The idea is really to be intentional about spending time and noticing nature around you. Do what you can and every little bit will help.

Benefits are seen on a curve

Like most things, the benefits from spending time in nature are seen on a curve (aka are not linear – see image below). Meaning when you don’t spend any time in nature and start to go out into nature you’ll see big benefits because you’re starting from zero. But the more nature you’re used to being around, then the more nature you need to see changes or additional benefits from nature (because you’re probably already getting benefits from being around nature so much already).

One hour in a park for someone who lives in a mega-metropolis and barely sees nature in their city will have a much greater impact on the city person compared to someone who lives in a rural area surrounded by nature.

Example of benefits seen on a curve. Think of the increasing cost as time in nature and you see how the effectiveness decreases (Source).

Places planning ahead

With the increasing trend of urbanization (moving to cities) it’s predicted that by 2050, ~67% of the world’s population will be living in an urban setting (source). This means less and less people will likely have easy access to nature unless we start to include nature in our city planning. There are a few places that are planning ahead and incorporating access to nature.

In Japan, they have a practice called “forest bathing” which simply means spending time in nature and letting nature in to yourself through the five senses. The Japanese government has spent millions in researching and promoting forest bathing, so that people can get the most from the experience. Now there are many centres and parks throughout Japan that are easily accessible to most people and provide both nature to bathe in and guides/tours to support you in the practice.

Singapore is another great example of intentionally including nature in urban planning. They have a plan to make sure very home is able to get to nature (i.e. a park) within a 10 min walk. Nature is intricately woven throughout the city planning, both by having designated nature parks, but also by having nature co-exist with the city through green buildings (buildings with plants on the exteriors), water reservoirs throughout the city, a plan to plant a million trees, and many more actions. Singapore is called “a city in a garden” (source). But none of this would be possible if it wasn’t a conscious and intentional priority for the city.

It’s possible to make nature more accessible to everyone, even those in large urban areas, we just have to make it a priority.

Final thoughts

Personally I didn’t find the concept of this book to be mind-blowing, I feel like I’ve always understood that nature can make me feel better. But I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook.

I found it fascinating to hear all the studies that are being done (and even how they try to study the impacts with so many things they can’t control), along with the concrete scientific evidence that nature improves your wellbeing on so many levels.

It was also really interesting to hear specific suggestions on how much nature we should all have (and so many of us don’t get). I found it really made me take notice of the nature and, more often than not, the lack of nature around me.

I live in Bangkok at the moment and without a vehicle it’s difficult to get out to nature. There are parks in the city, however most are small and the bigger ones are not that easy to get to if you live outside the subway/metro/sky train line. There are little pockets of nature throughout the city, but it’s difficult to find somewhere to actually immerse yourself in nature.

Living in Bangkok is such a strong contrast to where I used to live in Canada. I lived in a fairly rural area of Canada where I’d have to drive 5-10 min to get to a city, so you’re literally surrounded by nature all of the time. Nature is one of the things I miss the most while living in the city, it takes so much time to even get a taste of nature. But I have to admit, I do love seeing the glimpses of nature throughout Bangkok. I love seeing banana and papaya trees casually growing in the neighbourhoods, and the beautiful flowers that bloom throughout the year. There’s not nearly as much nature here, but at least I get to see greenery all year.

If you’re interested in learning more details about how nature can improve your wellbeing, then I would definitely recommend this book.