Often called “Vitamin N,” being outdoors in natural surroundings (forests, parks, fields, desert, mountains, oceans) has tremendous benefits for well-being.
Researchers in late 2020 (during global pandemic sequestering) made headlines by "prescribing nature," or recommended time outdoors based on research that suggests people who spent two or more hours in nature per week improved their health and wellbeing.
Based on this, transdisciplinary researchers from Drexel University investigated how nature relatedness -- simply feeling connected with the natural world -- benefits dietary diversity and fruit and vegetable intake, in a study recently published the American Journal of Health Promotion.
"Nature relatedness has been associated with better cognitive, psychological and physical health and greater levels of environmental stewardship. Our findings extend this list of benefits to include dietary intake," said Brandy-Joe Milliron, PhD, lead author. "We found people with higher nature relatedness were more likely to report healthful dietary intake, including greater dietary variety and higher fruit and vegetable consumption."
The research team surveyed over 300 adults in Philadelphia to measure their self-reported connection to nature, including their experience with and perspective of nature, and the foods and beverages they had consumed the previous day to assess their dietary diversity and estimate their daily fruit and vegetable consumption. The data were collected between May and August 2017. The results of the survey showed that participants with a stronger connection to nature reported a more varied diet and ate more fruits and vegetables.
An earlier study (2019) found that just 20 minutes in nature can have a remarkable effect on reducing and/or managing stress.
|"We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us," says Dr. Mary Carol Hunter, lead author. "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."|
Study participants were asked to immerse themselves in nature for 10 minutes or more three times a week or more for 8 weeks. Their cortisol (stress hormone) levels were measured from saliva samples taken before and after what the team dubbed “a nature pill,” once every two weeks.
The data revealed that just a 20-minute nature experience was enough to significantly reduce cortisol levels. But if you spend a little more time immersed in a nature experience, 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking, cortisol levels dropped at their greatest rate. After that, additional de-stressing benefits continue to add up but at a slower rate.
We love being outdoors, and undeniably, you do feel lighter, with a brighter outlook when you come inside. You cannot overdose on Vitamin N – so enjoy!
Milliron, B-J, et al. ‘Nature Relatedness Is Positively Associated With Dietary Diversity and Fruit and Vegetable Intake in an Urban Population.” American Journal of Health Promotion, 2022; 089011712210869
Hunter MCR, et al. “Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers.” Frontiers in Psychology, 2019