Two Hours a Week in Nature Can Boost Your Health and Well-Being, Research Finds
New research has given credence to the age-old wisdom that spending time outside is good for you. A study recently published in Nature's Scientific Reports journal found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature per week have higher odds of reporting better health and psychological well-being.
Researchers at the University of Exeter used data from almost 20,000 people in the UK who participated in a two-year survey funded by Natural England, which is the world's largest effort to collect data on people's weekly interactions with nature, according to The Guardian.
They found that people who spent two hours in nature were 23 percent more likely to report being satisfied with their life — a common well-being indicator — and were 59 percent more likely to report being in good health than those who had zero exposure to nature, Reuters reported.
Interestingly, the health benefits of getting at least 120 minutes of nature exposure each week persisted whether the threshold was met in one trip or multiple, and benefits increased for up to 300 minutes of exposure before plateauing. Additionally, the benefits seen after reaching 120 minutes applied widely to men and women of all ages, as well as across different ethnicities, socioeconomic status, and even those with long-term illnesses and disabilities.
"What really amazed us was that this was true for all groups of people," lead author Dr. Mathew White of the University of Exeter Medical School told The New York Times.
That said, people who did not get at least two hours in nature — even if they surpassed an hour per week — were not any more likely to say they were in good health than those who spent no time in natural spaces, White wrote in Quartz.
The researchers said the benefits could be tied to reduced stress from the tranquil setting or physical activities that are done outdoors, though the study wasn't designed to look for specific reasons why the benefits exist. White also noted in his Quartz article that because the data was self-reported, it was possible that participants might not have accurately remembered their time in nature during the previous week or might have gotten nervous speaking about their health and well-being.
The study is the latest addition to a compelling body of evidence that doctors should consider handing out nature prescriptions to their patients — in fact, many in the U.S. and UK are doing so already. In March, a large Danish study found that living near nature as a child could reduce a person's risk of mental illness as an adult. Other studies have revealed that the decades-old Japanese technique of "forest-bathing" has a range of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reduced disease risk and faster healing times.
The study didn't count time spent in a person's own yard or garden as time in nature, but the researchers said you don't need to completely escape civilization each week to benefit.
"The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing," Dr. White said in a press release. "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.
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What Is Ammonium Nitrate?<p>Ammonium nitrate is a white crystalline salt that can be fairly cheaply produced from ammonia and nitric acid. It is soluble and often used as fertilizer, as nitrogen is needed for healthy plant development.</p><p>Ammonium nitrate in its pure form is not dangerous. It is, however, heat sensitive. At 32.2 degrees Celsius (89.96 degrees Fahrenheit), ammonium nitrate changes its atomic structure, which in turn changes its chemical properties.</p><p>When large quantities of ammonium nitrate are stored in one place, heat is generated. If the amount is sufficiently vast, it can cause the chemical to ignite. Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.</p>
Deadly Disasters<p>As ammonium nitrate is a highly explosive chemical, many countries strictly regulate its use. Over the past 100 years, there have been several disasters involving the chemical.</p><p>In 1921, for example, a massive blast occurred at a BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. About 400 metric tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 559 people and injuring 1,977. The plant was largely destroyed in the blast, which could be heard as far away as Munich, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) distant.</p><p>In 2015, explosions caused by ammonium nitrate ripped through the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/china-convicts-dozens-for-last-years-giant-explosions-in-tianjin/a-36324321" target="_blank">Chinese port city of Tianjin</a>. Eight hundred metric tons of the chemical were said to have been stored along with other substances in a warehouse for hazardous materials. The blasts killed 173 people and destroyed an entire city district.</p><p>Two years earlier, in 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company site in Texas, killing 14 people. And in 2001, 31 people died in Toulouse, France, in an explosion caused by the chemical.</p>
Terrorist Favorite<p>In Germany, the purchase and use of ammonium nitrate is regulated by the explosives act. This is because the cheap, highly explosive and relatively easily obtainable material has in the past been used by terrorists to carry out attacks.</p><p>For example, in 1995, U.S. conspiracy theorist and gun enthusiast Timothy McVeigh used a mixture of ammonium nitrate and other substances to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik also used ammonium nitrate in a car bomb attack in Oslo in 2011.</p>
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