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Dose of nature even in your own backyard can help mental health during coronavirus pandemic

University of Washington researchers say you don't have to go to a remote location to experience the benefits of nature, you can access them right in your backyard.

SEATTLE — Many Washingtonians are spending more time in their homes or apartments due to the stay-at-home order to help slow the spread of coronavirus, which means they may be missing out on their usual weekend hikes and other nature escapes. 

But University of Washington researchers say you don't have to go to a remote location to get the mental and physical benefits nature provides, you can experience them in your own backyard.

“Studies have proven that even the smallest bit of nature — a single tree, a small patch of flowers, a house plant — can generate health benefits,” said Kathleen Wolf, a UW research social scientist in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “Look closely in your neighborhood, and the bit of nature you may have taken for granted up until now may become the focus of your attention and help you feel better.”

UW cited several studies in a recent post, saying they have shown nature's positive impact on health and well-being, even in urban areas and for people living in confined spaces. One of the studies found that a 20-minute "dose" of nature in cities reduced stress levels. 

Wolf explained residents who have backyards or balconies and can replicate these benefits at home by tending a garden or potted plants, sitting in the grass under a tree, walking barefoot, listening to birds sign or even studying a single flower or leaf. 

For people who can't go outside, Wolf said studies have shown that gazing out a window or looking at nature photos or videos can help boost positive mental health.

“It’s important to be mindful, commit to the activity and think about your observations while looking at these materials or elements of nature,” Wolf explained. “That means not merely scrolling through on your computer, but looking at photos or video streams with more intention. It’s essentially nature-oriented meditation.”

Journaling or sketching the nature you see each day, or forming an online discussion group to share your nature experiences are also ways Wolf recommended focusing your thoughts on the nature around you. 

Dr. Pooja Tandon, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at UW School of Medicine, said physical activity is also key to maintaining your health during the quarantine.

She recommended for healthy people who can practice social distancing 30 minutes of physical activity a day for adults, and 60 minutes of activity a day for children.

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