Being so close to the forest and wildlife is one of the great things UTM students have that most university students do not. A study from Cornell University found that students greatly benefit from exposure to nature, as opposed to urban spaces.
Previous studies have shown that spending time in nature has beneficial qualities for a person’s mental health. This study wanted to expand on these findings by discovering the minimum amount of time students should spend in a natural environment if they want to see improvements to their mental health.
Fourteen peer-reviewed research papers related to this topic were used to gather sample data. The subjects of the study had to be between the ages of 15-30 and had noted a change in their mental health prior to their outdoor activity. The studies had the participants in urban and natural spaces, where “natural” means anywhere with green space (e.g. Parks, woods, etc.) that are easily accessed by university students. Finally, the activities conducted by the participants included sitting, walking, and speed-walking in both settings.
The research team wanted to see how doing these activities affected their health and how the results differed in each environment. They reviewed the previous studies’ measurements of blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in their saliva to track physical changes that are related to psychological well-being. They also reviewed psychometric tests that revealed their self-reported changes in mood. Finally, standardized tests were administered to evaluate their changes in attention after each exercise. The 14 studies varied in the timing of each exercise from 10-50 minutes.
The results found that sitting for 10-30 minutes in nature settings decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, effectively showing a reduction of stress. 10-30 minutes of walking garnered similar affects, except walking for 31-50 minutes showed improvements in attentional tests. The self-reported mood changes varied positively after being in nature spaces.
As opposed to urban spaces, it appears that spending time in nature can have impressive benefits on a student’s mental health. More research is required, but it’s safe to say that spending at least ten minutes in nature spaces is enough to calm you down and reset your mood. Every little bit helps when we try to reduce the immensely large number of students impacted by mental illness. Improving access to resources is the most important thing, but simple changes to the environment of our universities can help too.
Original Article: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02942