Making this simple change to your lunch break is proven to boost your mood

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Moya Crockett
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Urban parks make people happier, research shows

Spending just 20 minutes around nature – even if you live in a city – will make you happier, according to new research. 

By now, we all know that spending time outdoors is good for our mental wellbeing. Scientists have found that being around nature can relieve stress, enhance our memories and improve our attentions spans, while other research has shown that being in the presence of trees greatly improves our mood. Some people even find that ecotherapy – a branch of therapeutic treatment involving structured activities in green environments – helps them deal with mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

And according to new research, nature could hold the key to boosting your happiness levels during your lunchbreak. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research shows that spending just 20 minutes in an urban park will make someone happier – meaning that you could improve your mood just by nipping out of the office for a stroll around your local green space.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Occupational Therapy found that people who visited urban parks experienced significant physical and mental health benefits, including stress reduction and recovery from mental exhaustion. 

Popping to your local park at lunchtime could significantly boost your mood 

Crucially, the person in question didn’t need to exercise in the park to feel these positive effects: just spending time around nature was enough.

“Overall, we found park visitors reported an improvement in emotional wellbeing after the park visit,” says Hon K Yuen, a professor in the UAB Department of Occupational Therapy who led the study.

“However, we did not find levels of physical activity are related to improved emotional wellbeing.

“Instead, we found time spent in the park is related to improved emotional wellbeing.”

Do you feel happier after spending time in a park? 

Some 98 adults took part in the experiment, which saw them spend time in urban parks in Alabama. While the study would need to be expanded in size for its findings to be conclusive, study co-author Gavin R Jenkins says the results illustrate the importance of green spaces in cities.

“The challenge facing cities is that there is an increasing evidence about the value of city parks but we continue to see the demise of theses spaces,” he says. 

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This research is the latest piece of evidence to show that we don’t have to spend huge amounts of time outdoors – or travel to the countryside – to experience the mood-boosting benefits of nature. In January 2018, researchers at King’s College London found that exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities resulted in improved mental wellbeing, with the beneficial effects still felt several hours later.

And according to a major study published by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in October, people who commute through natural environments – including leafy streets, canal paths, city parks and river walks – on a daily basis reported better mental health than those who didn’t.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there.

Images: Getty Images / Pexels