New Research: Here’s How More Time in Nature Can Lower Your Risk of High Blood Pressure

Updated: Jun. 20, 2024

A new meta-analysis suggests that more time outdoors could have major long-term benefits for your heart health, weight management and energy levels.

About half of US adults spend less than five hours outside each week, according to The Nature of Americans, a 2017 study led by leading experts and organizations in environmental and social science that examined how Americans connect with nature. In recent years, with more and more people working from home, spending their free time relaxing with a good binge-watching session or opting for meal delivery over dinner at a restaurant, we’re becoming increasingly indoor creatures.

However, that comes at a hefty cost for our health. The benefits of fresh air and sunlight are comprehensive, and you can likely feel its effects on factors like your mood, mental wellness, immune system and skin. You might not realize, though, how deep the health benefits of time in nature can run.

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A new systematic review and meta-analysis published in Environmental Research examined 26 studies to identify how “activities, programs or strategies taking place in natural settings,” called nature-based interventions, can improve someone’s health. These nature-based interventions included various outdoor activities, from gardening and exercising outside to forest bathing and ecotherapy.

The researchers observed the effects of nature-based interventions on a total of 16 physical health conditions, classifying them as:

  • Cardiovascular conditions
  • Central nervous system conditions
  • Endocrine conditions
  • Musculoskeletal conditions
  • Respiratory conditions

They also assessed the impact on health-related quality of life, systolic and diastolic blood pressure and body mass index.

Though no notable changes were observed in people with musculoskeletal or respiratory conditions, researchers found that nature-based interventions did reap other measurable health benefits.

For example, people who spent more time outdoors showed “significant” improvements in cardiovascular health, including diastolic blood pressure and heart rate. According to the review, spending more time moving your body outside can be “valuable” in reducing your risk of heart disease, hypertension and stroke.

Nature-based interventions also significantly reduced fatigue, a common symptom for people with central nervous system conditions such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.

The researchers also found that more time spent in nature led to a notable drop in body fat percentage for people with endocrine conditions, which can help lower the risk of related health issues such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis.

The review suggests that the benefits of nature-based interventions could extend even further, noting promising results of several other studies the researchers examined, including improvements in balance, walking speed, aerobic fitness, waist circumference and mobility among older adults and people with type 2 diabetes who participated in outdoor exercise programs.

If taking up hiking or forest bathing sounds intimidating, start small: Whether it’s a short walk in the park, a little gardening or simply soaking up the sun in your backyard, every bit of time in nature can help protect your long-term health.