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Spending time in nature improves physical and mental health

Although an increasing body of scientific evidence is showing that time spent in nature (TSN) is associated with greater physical and mental health, most American adults spend little time in green or natural environments. In order to predict people’s probability of spending more time in nature, a new study led by the Texas A&M University School of Public Health has outlined two scales created to measure factors related to TSN.

According to the scientists, two strong predictors of health behaviors are self-efficacy and intentions. “Self-efficacy” was defined as “a person’s confidence in his or her ability to take action and to persist in that action despite obstacles or challenges pertaining to spending time in nature,” and “intention” as “planning to engage in certain nature-related behaviors over the next three months.” After defining these terms, the researchers created a survey aiming to measure them, and administered it to a nationwide sample of over 2,000 respondents.

The survey results revealed that spending more time in nature correlates with both self-efficacy and intention, suggesting that future public health interventions to improve TSN should have increasing confidence to spend time in nature as a major goal. 

Both self-efficacy and intention were negatively correlated with age, indicating a decrease in confidence in older adults, which could be related to mobility or safety concerns that generally increase with age. Male participants shown higher self-efficacy than female respondents, a finding that was confirmed by previous research showing that women are less likely to participate in recreational activities in natural environments.

The development of these scales is a first step in what the scientists hope will be a series of studies aiming to find ways of improving physical and mental health through increased TSN. “We’re working on developing a whole suite of measures,” said study lead author Jay Maddock, an expert in social-ecological approaches to increase physical activity at Texas A&M. “Once those are done, we’re going to be looking to develop theory-based interventions to increase time spent in nature.”

The study is published in the journal BMC Psychology.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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