College students can eliminate stress by spending just 10 minutes outdoors

ITHACA, N. Y. — College can be a very stressful time for young adults, and this can be very taxing on their mental health. Fortunately there is a very accessible remedy for this stress — nature. Recent research shows that spending as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help relieve students of their college stress.

The review from Cornell University evaluates numerous studies on nature’s effects on the mental health of college students to find an effective “nature prescription” for students.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” says lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine, in a media release. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

The studies included in the review compare the effects of a “green” environment versus an urban setting on the physical and mental health of students. The measures used in the studies include students’ heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol levels (a stress hormone), mood and their ability to focus. The review of the studies indicates that 10-50 minutes of sitting or walking in nature are the most effective at improving these measures.

“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” notes co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

One of the critical aspects of this review is that it provides students with something they can do on a daily basis to relieve their stress. Rakow comments: “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”

Researchers hope that their findings will encourage universities to integrate nature into their campuses and provide opportunities for students to take advantage of these resources. They note that several universities have organized “Nature Rx” or “Park Prescription” programs that encourage students to spend time exploring the natural world. Programs like this can help students add regular doses of nature to their daily routine.

“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal” says Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”

The review is published in Frontiers in Psychology.