By Talia Avakian
January 19, 2019
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Spending just five minutes in nature can quickly improve your mood, researchers from the University of Regina have found.

In a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that participants who spent just five minutes sitting in nature experienced an increase in positive emotions.

Researchers conducted two studies before coming to this conclusion.

In the first study, a total of 123 participants from the university’s psychology department participant pool were assigned either to an outdoor location (an urban park on the border of the campus) or an indoor location (a windowless laboratory room). Participants were asked to put away all electronic devices and focus on their setting while remaining seated for five minutes.

Each person was then asked to scale a range of emotions that included both hedonic moods (emotions associated with comfort and pleasure) and self-transcendent emotions (including feelings of awe, gratitude, wonder, and a sense that you are part of something greater than yourself), both before and after being taken to each setting.

When it came to hedonic emotions, those sitting outside experienced an increase before and after the test, while those in the indoor setting did not. Similarly, when it came to self-transcendent emotions, those in the outdoor setting experienced a greater increase than those inside. 

Results also indicated a sense of awe evoked by spending just five minutes in the outdoor setting. 

Researchers then conducted a second study to see if increasing the duration spent in the natural setting would correlate with a larger increase in these emotions.

For the second study, 70 participants from the university’s psychology department pool were asked to spend 15 minutes (without electronic devices) seated in both settings. For the second study, researchers also included a scale for participants to score negative emotions including stress, depression, and anxiety on a four-point scale.

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While increasing the duration of the time spent in nature did not increase the amount of positive emotions experienced, the study also revealed that negative emotions were lowered in both settings with five minutes of rest.

“There are two important take homes; the first I emphasize to all my students these days — when you need an emotional boost, the fastest and easiest way is to spend a few minutes with nature,” one of the study’s authors, Katherine D. Arbuthnott, told PsyPost. Arbuthnott noted that being outside is the best option, but looking at photos of natural scenes can also help.

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“The second is that, since contact with nature is so beneficial to our emotional health, preserving our local natural spaces is an important public health goal,” she added.

The study does have some limitations, including that it only examined short exposures of up to 15 minutes in a small urban park, but its results are a nod to the importance of green spaces in urban planning.