Being outside makes your blood pressure decline, allows your body to recover from stress and eases your mind. But how much nature does one need, exactly, for that positive effect? Try the ‘nature pyramid’.
Research shows that five hours in nature is enough to profit from nature’s positive effects. It might sound like quite a lot, but you don’t have to spend the time all at once. A practical tool is the ‘nature pyramid’.
The pyramid consists of four layers that go from ‘little everyday moments’ to ‘really going outside’. Together, the layers make for an ideal maintenance dose. And it’s actually quite simple, because you can get your dose of nature in several ways.
This is how the pyramid works:
1 Your daily dose
This is the first, broad layer, and it’s easy to score here. Just make sure you create a base by surrounding ourself with green and soaking up small portions of nature every day. The more often you go, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes, the better.
* pick a walking or biking route with trees, on the road to work or school
* Put plants in your house and on your desk and allow your eyes some rest by looking at it for a couple of seconds every once in a while
* Put pots with fresh herbs in the kitchen, and smell them as often as you can (instant energy boost!).
* Play a recording of birds in the woods on YouTube while you’re at work
* Paint a wall green
* Just walk into the garden (if you have one)
Tip: the beneficial effect of green is bigger afterwards than it is beforehand. So taking a walk after work is even better than before work.
2 Your weekly dose: into the woods (for a few hours)
This is the second level in the pyramid. Think of it as your maintenance dose. It’s not complicated: just go outside once a week for a couple of hours. A day to the beach has a fantastic effect, just like an afternoon in the woods. Spending the day with the kids? Why not take them into the woods instead of to the indoor playground.
Tip: the weather doesn’t need to be fantastic: if it’s raining softly, the woods smell extra nice!
3 Every couple of months: a big dose (like a mini vacation)
The higher you get in the pyramid, the longer and most intense the experience. With level 1 and 2 you easily reach a couple of hours a week. Take some more time every couple of months, for instance by taking a mini vacation – not a citytrip, but a trip outside. Go camping for a night, or retreat to a log cabin.
Tip: go to the same place every couple of months, so you’ll experience it in every season.
4 Annually: a reset for body and mind
The top of the pyramid is narrow, but it adds a lot of depth. You don’t need to do it more than once a year, but make sure you have the time: go outside for a few days (or longer) and be outside continuously. Five days is perfect, more is fine. Go for a hike in the mountains, follow the pilgrims’ path to Santiago or take a long walk in your own country, there are several options.
Quick result with the nature pyramid
The most important thing is to start with something small. Just try it. Start with the lowest layer of the pyramid, with lots of small portions of nature that help you to recover from stress and complicated emotions. Then move on to step two. This is how you easily bring more nature in your life. After a difficult time in your life, you can add a retreat (like in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild).
But it starts with small moments. After a busy day, when everyone’s tired and the house seems too small. It’s comforting to know you can find instant relief in something that’s always at an arms reach: a pot of fresh herbs. Basil, or thyme, or rosemary.
Breathe in, breathe out.
‘What are you doing, mom?’
‘Here, darling. Just smell it!’
Text: Anne Wesseling - Photo: Patrick Hendry