Simple Ways to Spend More Time in Nature
By Jared Hawkins, Extension Assistant Professor
Adults and adolescents in the U.S. spend over 90% of their time indoors and more than seven hours per day looking at screens (EPA, 1989; Moody, 2022; Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). Too much screen time and not enough time spent with nature has been found to contribute to negative mental health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety (Frumkin et al., 2017; Mougharbel & Goldfield, 2020; Vizcaino et al., 2020). On the other hand, research has found that time spent with nature has mental health benefits, such as reduced stress, better sleep, and greater happiness (Ambrey, 2016; Frumkin et al., 2017; Shuda, Bougoulias, & Kass, 2020).
It can be difficult to spend time with nature because of busy day-to-day schedules, and it may seem especially hard to access nature sites in urban locations. Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to spend more time with nature, no matter where you live. Here are a few ideas:
- Bring nature inside. Decorating indoor spaces with live plants is a simple way to bring nature to you. You can also let natural light in through windows to brighten your home and provide views of the outdoors.
- Take breaks outside. Even if you only have a few minutes, consider taking a walk or eating a meal outside. Bringing your attention to the view of trees, the sound of birds, or the feel of wind can help you be mindful and decrease stress. To start, try this mindful walking exercise.
- Try gardening. Gardening can be a fun way to increase your physical activity and increase your contact with nature. There are ways to do urban and planter box gardening if you live in an apartment or urban area. You can find beginning gardening classes here.
- Visit nearby nature sites. Even most urban areas have parks, streams, or public gardens nearby. Consider exploring nature near you for picnics, family games, or other activities. Visiting nearby nature sites is a free or low-cost way to spend more time in nature.
- Plan a nature trip. If you want to spend longer periods of time with nature, plan your next personal or family trip to a national park, lake, or beach to camp, rock-climb, fish, hike, star-gaze, bike, canoe, or a number of other activities.
Ambrey, C. L. (2016). An investigation into the synergistic wellbeing benefits of greenspace and physical activity: Moving beyond the mean. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 19, 7-12.
Mougharbel, F., & Goldfield, G. S. (2020). Psychological correlates of sedentary screen time behaviour among children and adolescents: A narrative review. Current Obesity Reports, 9(4), 493-511.
Moody, R. (2022). Screen Time Statistics: Average screen time in US vs. the rest of the world. Comparitech. Retrieved April 4, 2022, from https://www.comparitech.com/tv-streaming/screen-time-statistics/.
Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation m2: Media in the lives of 8-to 18-year-olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
Shuda, Q., Bougoulias, M. E., & Kass, R. (2020). Effect of nature exposure on perceived and physiologic stress: A systematic review. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 53, 102514.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 1989. Report to Congress on indoor air quality: Volume 2. EPA/400/1-89/001C. Washington, DC.
Vizcaino, M., Buman, M., DesRoches, T., & Wharton, C. (2020). From TVs to tablets: The relation between device-specific screen time and health-related behaviors and characteristics. BMC Public Health, 20(1), 1-10.