A Prescription for Nature

Forests, parks, and beaches have all shown to have a positive effect on health and well-being, especially for city dwellers. Sounds like a good reason to get outside!

It doesn’t even take much to have an effect. You don’t have to go deep into the forest. Urban green spaces, plant walls, and city parks are associated with improved mental health, increased physical activity, and better birth outcomes. Not bad for a small grove of trees or overgrown lawn, right?

The idea that nature nurtures isn’t new, but a study at the University of Michigan found that participants who spent time outdoors three times a week had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. The participants were free to go outside whenever and wherever it suited them. They could sit or walk but were asked not to exert themselves physically because that could skew the samples. It’s probably safe to assume some physical activity thrown in is also safe. We’ve never known a doctor or therapist to forbid a hike.

The researchers found that participants had significantly reduced cortisol after 20 to 30 minutes in nature. After about 30 minutes of exposure to nature, the effects tapered off, indicating 30 minutes was the ideal amount of time. But we won’t discourage you from staying longer. Who has ever heard a nature overdose?

If you do head out for a while or go deep into the woods for some forest bathing, be sure to prepare with proper rain gear, maps, and lights.

Time spent by water specifically was found to create a meditative state that can leave you feeling calmer, more creative, and happier. In fact, there’s almost an immediate neurochemical response when we get near water that facilitates a feeling of relaxation.

Not that you need permission to go outside, but if you want it, choose the prescription that works for you:

Quick fix

Rx: An easy 20 to 30-minute walk in a park

Take: 3 times per week. More if desired

Refills: Unlimited

Try:

6 Beautiful and Accessible Parks and Trails Near Seattle

A Walking Tour of Thurston County

5 Great Hikes for Taking in Spokane

Added calmness

Rx: 20 to 30 minutes by water

Take: 3 times per week. More if desired

Refills: Unlimited

Try:

How to Enjoy Natural Hot Springs Near Seattle

Visit Seattle’s Own Beach Town: West Seattle

6 Epic Northwest Coastal Hikes You Need to See

Riverfront and more Family-Friendly Spokane Spots

Something stronger

Rx: A day trip or an overnight in nature

Take: Take once, repeat as needed

Refills: Unlimited

Try:

Find Peace and Quiet in Washington’s Most Remote Escapes

Treehouse Getaways

Candace Nelson

In the mountains or water debate, Candace Nelson chooses water every time. She is a Master of Science in Nutrition student and loves taking any fitness class that makes her forget she's working out. Read more at candacenelson.net