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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Cornell: Minimum Time Dose in Nature to Positively Impact the Mental Health of College-Aged Students, and How to Measure It – A Scoping Review

Across the U.S., college students exhibit high levels of stress, depression, and other mental health-related issues. In the year prior to a 2017 survey, responding college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety (61 percent), hopelessness (51 percent), and more than average or tremendous stress (67 percent); 13 percent had been diagnosed or treated for depression or anxiety. While counseling, medications, and — in more severe cases — hospitalization are all appropriate treatments for such conditions, an increasing body of evidence demonstrates that spending time in nature can provide tangible benefits for emotional wellbeing.

This systematic scoping review sought to determine: how much time a college-age student needs to spend in nature, doing what activity, to reap benefits? To ensure a focus on equity, only accessible and sustainable doses were considered. Dose was defined in minutes and hours, and activities were defined as sitting or walking in areas easily accessible from a college campus. Mental health was defined as psychological elements linked to general wellbeing, such as low stress, happiness, and ability to focus.

The review examined 14 studies on mental health benefits of spending time in natural settings for college-aged students. Results indicate that as little as 10-20 minutes and up to 50 minutes sitting or walking in an array of natural settings significantly and positively impacted key psychological and physiological markers. This review provides time-dose and activity-type evidence for using time in nature is a preventative measure. Institutions of higher learning should strongly consider providing access to nature on their campuses and encouraging students to take advantage of this valuable resource.

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