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Front Psychol. 2019 Apr 4;10:722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722. eCollection 2019.

Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers.

Author information

1
School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States.
2
Consulting for Statistics, Computing, and Analytics Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States.
3
Department of Biostatistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States.

Abstract

Stress reduction through contact with nature is well established, but far less is known about the contribution of contact parameters - duration, frequency, and nature quality. This study describes the relationship between duration of a nature experience (NE), and changes in two physiological biomarkers of stress - salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase. It is the first study to employ long-term, repeated-measure assessment and the first evaluation wherein study participants are free to choose the time of day, duration, and the place of a NE in response to personal preference and changing daily schedules. During an 8-week study period, 36 urban dwellers were asked to have a NE, defined as spending time in an outdoor place that brings a sense of contact with nature, at least three times a week for a duration of 10 min or more. Their goal was compliance within the context of unpredictable opportunity for taking a nature pill. Participants provided saliva samples before and after a NE at four points over the study period. Before-NE samples established the diurnal trajectory of each stress indicator and these were in line with published outcomes of more closely controlled experiments. For salivary cortisol, an NE produced a 21.3%/hour drop beyond that of the hormone's 11.7% diurnal drop. The efficiency of a nature pill per time expended was greatest between 20 and 30 min, after which benefits continued to accrue, but at a reduced rate. For salivary alpha-amylase, there was a 28.1%/h drop after adjusting for its diurnal rise of 3.5%/h, but only for participants that were least active sitting or sitting with some walking. Activity type did not influence cortisol response. The methods for this adaptive management study of nature-based restoration break new ground in addressing some complexities of measuring an effective nature dose in the context of normal daily life, while bypassing the limitations of a clinical pharmacology dose-response study. The results provide a validated starting point for healthcare practitioners prescribing a nature pill to those in their care. This line of inquiry is timely in light of expanding urbanization and rising healthcare costs.

KEYWORDS:

adaptive intervention; affordable healthcare; amylase; cortisol; duration prescription; mental well-being; nature pill; stress reduction

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