Spending between 120–300 minutes per week in nature shown to increase wellbeing.
- New research from Exeter Medical School shows that 120 minutes a week in nature increases wellbeing.
- Nearly 20,000 urban-dwelling British citizens took part in this large-scale study.
- Health benefits associated with being in nature include lowered risk of obesity, diabetes, and mental distress.
As with much health advice, the simplest prescriptions seem to be the most effective. Common sense reigns supreme. That's the consensus of a new study, published in Scientific Reports on June 13, which offers the most basic guidelines imaginable: spending at least two hours a week in nature will do wonders for your health.
The researchers, based at the U.K.'s Exeter Medical School, scoured previous studies to better understand how simply being outside benefits us. What did they find? They discovered being immersed in nature lower probabilities of asthma hospitalization, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental distress, obesity, and mortality in adults; it has also been shown to reduce obesity and myopia in children.
Two hours weekly appears to be the sweet spot, with peak positive associations capping between 200–300 minutes. One caveat: the research is based on nearly 20,000 people that live in dense urban regions. This makes sense, as it is this population most in need of woods, lakes, and mountains. There's only so much one can take staring at asphalt (or a screen).
That being in nature bestows health benefits shouldn't be surprising; it is where humans spent most of their time until quite recently. Many other prescriptions, from Japanese forest bathing to Swedish plogging (cleaning up trash in natural environments) have been touted as being mentally and physically positive activities. It seems the further disconnected from nature we become, the more we crave it.
It doesn't matter how you break up the weekly 120 minutes. A daily walk or a once-weekly hike both do the trick. The researchers also don't differentiate between environments. A local park appears to be as effective as an oceanside hike or heading deep into the forest.
Prescribing Nature for Health | Nooshin Razani | TEDxNashville
Such information is especially important considering that 68 percent of the world's population is expected to live in urban areas in the next three decades. Social animals by nature, the allure of cities is pulling residents to congregate in tighter proximity. The trade-off is further disconnection from the land that first gave birth to our species.
Of course, escape is always possible. Motivation and time management are key factors. Consider the varied possibilities for those living in New York City. You can always jump on a train in any direction: east to the Rockaways and Long Island, north to New York State's incredible hiking, west to the Delaware Water Gap, south to plenty of green space in Jersey. Making it part of your week is the real challenge for Manhattanites that rarely leave their borough.
On the other side of the nation, nature is everywhere in Los Angeles. Ironically, the metropolis boasts the fewest public parks in the world for a city of this size. Again, time management and motivation: getting to the mountains is possible from most parts of the city within 20 minutes. The benefits are worth it. Being proactive about your health is the challenge.
Interestingly, the study draws the line at 120 minutes. Participants that logged between one and 119 minutes reported no better subjective well-being than those who spent no time in nature. The threshold appears to be 120 minutes, with benefits lasting up to 300 minutes. At that point, no further benefits accrue.
Photo credit: Blake Richard Verdoorn on Unsplash
Medical professionals are also recognizing this trend. In Scotland, doctors are authorized to prescribe nature walks to their patients. As far back as the '70s doctors realized that hospital patients with more natural light in their rooms healed quicker than those facing buildings or other obstructions.
City governments realize that urban regions need to include plenty of green space. The Brooklyn waterfront is being transformed from ports of industry to parks of leisure. In 2008, Portland, Oregon, launched its Grey to Green initiative to reimagine its entire infrastructure. Even as Copenhagen is becoming a tech leader, the nine artificial islands under construction of the city's coast includes plenty of green space.
While cities and doctors are playing a role in bringing us closer to nature, it's still up to us city dwellers to put in the effort. Personal history, biodiversity, and even ethnicity are involved in the study above. As the team writes,
"Research considering the quality of the natural environment in terms of plant and/or animal species richness suggests that experiences may be better in more biodiverse settings. Contact with nature is more than just a complex multi-sensory experience, to varying degrees personal histories and meanings, longstanding cultural practices, and a sense of place play some role in the benefits realized, factors which may account for why we did not find the same pattern for health individuals not identifying as White British."
Even weighing in these factors, the message is clear: get outdoors. We were born of this earth. The less time we spend locked away from it, the more likely we are to experience negative mental and physical health. Fortunately, the opposite is also true. We just have to step outside.
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FDA guidelines say men can't donate blood if they've had sex with another man in the past 12 months.
- At least seven 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns have called for an end to the FDA's guidelines, as reported by The Independent.
- It would be the first year that the issue has been a focus of presidential candidates.
- The American Public Health Association said the FDA's ban isn't based on science.
In 1983, as the HIV and AIDS was ramping up in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration banned blood donations from men who'd ever had sex with other men. The policy remains active, though in 2015 the FDA narrowed its ban to apply only to men who've had sex with another man in the past year.
Soon, the ban could be lifted altogether.
A growing number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are calling to end the long-standing policy, which gay-rights advocacy groups say promotes homophobia and is no longer necessary, thanks to modern disease-screening techniques. Most harmfully, the ban could be preventing healthy blood from reaching patients who need it, when blood shortages are already alarmingly common.
"The one-year deferral period for male blood donors who identify as gay and bisexual has nothing to do with science or medicine and everything to do with outdated stigmas against the LGBTQ community," a spokesperson for Beto O'Rourke's campaign told The Independent, which received similar responses from the campaigns of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, John Delaney, and Marianne Williamson.
"Our blood screening policies must be based on 21st century medical evidence, not outdated biases about which populations carry more risk of HIV transmission. These policies serve no one and will only limit access to life-saving blood donations."
The ban hasn't been a key issue in past elections, said William McColl, director of health policy with the advocacy group AIDs United.
"I'm pleased to hear that they're talking about it. I think it shows that we've come a really long way in a short period of time," McColl told The Independent. "This discussion wasn't happening even 10 years ago, for sure."
House Democrats tried to lift the FDA's current policy in 2016, but the legislation never passed.
Is the FDA's current policy based on science?
Not really, according to Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association.
"[The FDA's 12-month policy on gay donors] continues to prevent low-risk individuals from contributing to our blood supply and maintains discriminatory practices based on outdated stereotypes," he wrote in comments submitted to the FDA in 2015. "Instead, we strongly urge FDA to issue guidance that is grounded in science to ensure a safe and robust blood supply."
Benjamin noted that current screening technology can identify HIV in blood donations within 11 days, and that the odds of an infected sample making it past screening is about 1 in 3.1 million. The Williams Institute, a think-tank at UCLA School of Law, estimates that eliminating the ban would add 615,300 pints to the national blood supply each year, an increase of about 4 percent.
"Bottom line: It's probably best to set your alarm for a specific time and get up then."
The Ghazipur dump keeps growing and growing every year, catching fire and leaching toxins into the ground. What can be done about it?
- The Ghazipur dump in Delhi has become so overgrown that locals refer to it as "Mount Everest."
- In 2017, a landslide from the dump spilled over onto adjacent roads, killing two locals.
- The dump is a serious health risk and source of pollution, but it also serves as an example of India's broader challenges with waste management.
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