Research Agenda Calls for Deeper Look into Health Benefits of Nature Contact

New Research Agenda Calls for Deeper Look into Health Benefits of Contact With Nature

(Download press release.)

person outside, health benefits of nature contact press release

How do you measure a “dose” of nature? Multi-sector research teams’ work shows the need for a deeper look into how much nature people need to derive health benefits. Photo / Myles Tan

Aug. 29, 2017 (Portland, Ore.) — At a time of increasing disconnectedness from nature, scientific interest in the potential health benefits of nature contact has grown. Research in recent decades has yielded substantial evidence, but large gaps remain in our understanding.

For example, we know that connecting with nature is good for our health, thanks to a growing body of evidence. But how do we measure a “dose” of nature? Do we get the same benefits from gardening in our yards as we do from taking a hike in the woods? Is going outside in nature once a week for 20 minutes the same as looking out your front window onto a park or natural area?

A team of scientists says a research effort focused on questions like these has the potential to yield public health insights and has outlined seven research domains that would help us frame a national agenda for studying the health benefits of nature contact, the results of which would help to shape policies and practices for our nation.

The seven domains include questions such as the following:

  • How exactly does time in nature make you healthier? Is it a reduction of stress, immune system response, or something else?
  • How can we best measure the “exposure” to the healing power of nature?
  • What is the right “dose” of nature? What are the best ways to study the epidemiology of nature?
  • Not everyone reacts the same to being outdoors in nature. What are the responses of different populations and people with different experiences with nature?
  • Does a video of nature provide similar benefits from a hike in the woods? How does technology enhance or hinder the health benefits of nature?
  • Are there healthcare savings from more time in nature? How cost-effective is time in nature relative to other health actions?
  • What are the design “prescriptions” on how best to design schoolyards, parks, trails, and programs that connect people and nature?

The agenda is now available for viewing in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“If we can implement this research agenda, we can help build the kinds of environments that support health for everyone,” says Bobby Cochran, co-author of the agenda and executive director of Willamette Partnership, a Portland-based conservation nonprofit that sees a role for the environmental sector to play in improving public health outcomes. Cochran is a Culture of Health Leader, a new program co-led by the National Collaborative for Health Equity and CommonHealth ACTION with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Willamette Partnership works with community leaders to build a business case for conservation by helping them quantify the economic and social benefits of environmental protection. They co-lead Oregon’s Health and Outdoors Initiative, an effort to get more people outside for their health, particularly for people experiencing the greatest health disparities. The initiative is raising awareness about one of the most tangible social benefits of conservation: improved public health.

“There is no reason why state Medicaid programs and hospital systems shouldn’t be all over outdoor recreation — whether that’s playing in a neighborhood park or climbing a mountain,” Cochran says.

Download the press release to read more.

Willamette Partnership Staff

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