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Wandering around a park may benefit health, study says

Just 30 minutes per week outdoors could lower instances of depression and high blood pressure.

By Stephen Feller
Researchers found in a recent study that just 30 minutes a week outside is enough to lower the risk for depression and high blood pressure. Photo by rprisarn/Shutterstock
Researchers found in a recent study that just 30 minutes a week outside is enough to lower the risk for depression and high blood pressure. Photo by rprisarn/Shutterstock

BRISBANE, Australia, June 23 (UPI) -- While many people know spending time outdoors is good for their health, new research in Australia shows that even a small amount of time outside garners significant health benefits.

Researchers at the University of Queensland found about 30 minutes per week at a park or nature area can improve mental and physical health, including lowering blood pressure.

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Several years of research has shown the effects of spending time outside on all areas of health, including the increase in physical activity, carries with it the chance to reduce healthcare costs based on reductions in depression and high blood pressure alone.

"We've known for a long time that visiting parks is good for our health, but we are now beginning to establish exactly how much time we need to spend in parks to gain these benefits," Dr. Richard Fuller, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, said in a press release. "We have specific evidence that we need regular visits of at least half an hour to ensure we get these benefits."

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For the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, analyzed health records for 1,538 Brisbane City residents, comparing the amount of time experiencing nature with four health outcomes.

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Overall, a longer duration spent in nature found increased physical activity and lower prevalence of high blood pressure and depression with an average of 30 minutes outside. The researchers estimate, based on the analysis, that a 30-minute minimum could reduce the number of depression cases by 7 percent and high blood pressure cases by 9 percent.

Although the researchers found about 40 percent of Brisbane residents did not visit a park or other outdoor space in an average week, they think getting people to do so may not be that hard.

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"So how can we encourage people to spend more time in green space?" said Dr. Danielle Shanahan, a researcher at the University of Queensland. "We need more support and encouragement of community activities in natural spaces. For example, the Nature Play programs in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia provide heaps of ideas for helping kids enjoy the great outdoors."

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