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Amy Iverson: We now know how much time we need in nature to reduce stress

SALT LAKE CITY — Spending time outdoors can be a good way to help reduce stress. A new study published in “Frontiers in Psychology” has discovered how much time in nature we actually need for it to have a real measurable benefit.

Lead author, Dr. MaryCarol Hunter from the University of Michigan, broke it down for Science Daily.

“Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature,” Hunter explained.

Researchers allowed the participants to get their dose of nature any time of day but it had to be at least three times a week for 10 minutes or more. That short amount of time in nature without phones, reading or even conversations significantly lowered cortisol levels, with the optimum time spent between 20 and 30 minutes.

Healthcare providers could use these findings to essentially prescribe nature for patients suffering from stress.

Even though this study banned electronics, technology can actually help adults and children find ways to connect with nature. And with the school year quickly coming to a close, it’s time to find creative ways to entertain our kids and ourselves outside. If you choose to use your phone to help you and your kids get better acquainted with Mother Nature, here are a few ideas to try.

The Seek app by iNaturalist is a great way to get kids interested in learning more about all living things around them. If you find a bug or a mushroom or a flower and want to know more about it, just take a photo with the app. It uses your location and millions of observations recorded by iNaturalist to identify what you found and tell you all about it. You can also use the app to view what types of life are in your area, so you can keep an eye out for opportunities to learn. The app will also give users challenges like finding 10 species in a week to earn badges.

The Swim Guide app can tell users in real time if the water is safe to jump in.
The Swim Guide app can tell users in real time if the water is safe to jump in.
Amy Iverson, Swim Guide

A couple of years ago, my family stopped at Imperial Beach, California on our way home from Mexico. As my kids ran toward the sand, we spotted a bright yellow sign telling everyone to keep out. It said the water was contaminated with sewage. Still, people were wading and even swimming in the water. We wondered if they knew something we didn’t and that the water was safer than we imagined. We still chose not to get in the water, but the Swim Guide app would have definitely come in handy. This app quickly tells you with a green or red icon the real-time water quality of thousands of beaches and lakes. Users can type in locations or use the map to find information. Swim Guide also has details about beaches’ amenities, lifeguard availability and parking.

Finally, if you didn’t get the chance to make it outside on any given day, you can always fake it. The Nature Melody app is a basic, simple way to bring the noises of nature to your home. Choose from 32 nature sounds that the app claims are perfectly looped. Then decide if you want to use the noise to help you fall asleep with the built-in timer, use the nature sounds as background noise, or set the alarm to have nature sounds wake you up. You may find thunder and bird trills are just the perfect thing to put you to sleep, or that the campfire sound is a great backdrop for reading. And if you miss your days growing up on the farm, there’s even a rooster crowing sound option for the alarm.

Whether you use technology or shun it to commune with the outdoors, the point is to interact with nature. Researchers have shown time and time again the therapeutic benefits can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.