The road to better mental and physical health is a walk in the park; or, more precisely, spending two hours each week in nature. That's what a study of nearly 20,000 English men and women found. People who spent two hours in natural settings — whether hiking in the mountains, enjoying local parks or walking on the beach, all reported better health and well-being than people who didn't visit natural surroundings at all.

The two hours didn't need to happen at one time, but the cumulative total did seem to matter. Those whose time in natural settings totaled less than 120 minutes a week did not show evidence of the health advantages nature can provide.

“There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances...”

“It's well known that getting outdoors in nature can be good for people's health and wellbeing but until now we've not been able to say how much is enough,” said lead researcher Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, in a statement. “The majority of nature visits in this research took place within just two miles of home so even visiting local urban greenspaces seems to be a good thing. Two hours a week is hopefully a realistic target for many people, especially given that it can be spread over an entire week to get the benefit.”

The researchers used data from the world's largest study of people's weekly contact with the natural world — Natural England's Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey. The findings are in line with those of other studies showing the health benefits of spending time in the natural world.

“There are many reasons why spending time in nature may be good for health and wellbeing, including getting perspective on life circumstances, reducing stress, and enjoying quality time with friends and family,” said co-author, Terry Hartig, of Uppsala University in Sweden. “The current findings offer valuable support to health practitioners in making recommendations about spending time in nature to promote basic health and wellbeing, similar to guidelines for weekly physical”

The findings suggest that healthcare providers may want to prescribe or seriously encourage patients to schedule regular time outside in nature. The portion size of your time in nature doesn't matter; just work toward a two-hour total each week. It is likely to turn out to be both easy and pleasant to do. You might even make family time a feature of your nature breaks, a way to double their benefits.

The study is published in Scientific Reports.