Prescription for Nature
Story by Ed Dorsch, BA ’94 (English, sociology), MA ’99 (journalism)

A new app developed at the UO uses technology to help users quantify their time in nature and maximize the benefits.

You know heading outdoors is good for you. But what if your smartphone could quantify how much nature you’re getting?

A University of Oregon spinoff, NatureQuant just launched NatureDose, an app that uses technology, big data, and artificial intelligence to measure your time indoors and out—and how green that time is.

An emerging body of research confirms that time in nature lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormone cortisol. But how much time does that take, and what are the benefits of different places?

Your NatureDose score provides a precise measurement, says NatureQuant cofounder and Chief Science Officer Chris Minson, the UO’s Kenneth H. and Kenda M. Singer Professor in Human Physiology. The score helps you set goals and improve habits, he explains, and could even be used by doctors or insurance companies to promote health and create “nature prescriptions.”

“People are often counting steps, and trying to get to 10,000 per day,” says Minson. “We believe where you take those steps is just as important.”

The effort spans several of the university’s Academic Initiatives, including Innovation, Data Science, the Environment and Sport and Wellness. The University Venture Development fund helped Minson and NatureQuant launch their new app.

NatureDose also holds promise as a research tool. For example, scientists are currently evaluating how the app could provide data for studying the impact of nature on anxiety and depression.

Chris Minson, professor of human physiology, takes a walk around campus to talk about NatureDose, the new app launched by the company he cofounded.

Chuck Williams
“NatureQuant’s mission connected with multiple Academic Initiatives and leveraged our ability to invest in the company and UO research across disciplines, to accelerate the impact of NatureDose and our research.”
Chuck Williams
Associate Vice President for Innovation
Chris Minson
“We want to use tools like big data and machine learning to better understand where we need to invest with green spaces—and how we can motivate people to get off their screens and into nature.”
Chris Minson
Kenneth H. and Kenda M. Singer Professor in Human Physiology
Chief Science Officer, NatureQuant

NatureDose: First Dose

Matt Lanning, Colorado resident and a NatureDose beta tester, shares his impressions of living and learning with the new app.

NatureDose app on a phone

How do you use NatureDose?

I enjoy both the goal achievement and the “game” aspect of getting to that goal. When I lived and worked in San Francisco, I would have loved to have had this app to keep pushing me to get up from my desk and get out the door on time to make sure I’m taking care of both my mental and physical health.

Which feature do you like most?

Seeing my overall weekly usage over time, knowing that I can typically correlate a week where I’m feeling more overwhelmed with a week where I spent less time outside. This is usually an after-the-fact confirmation, but also gives me motivation to get out the door each day, regardless of other influences or weather. For me, more time outside is directly proportional with less mental anguish and more happiness.

How much time does it take to set up and use it?

No time at all. I literally just installed the app, set my goal for the week and closed the app. I would check the app a couple of times a week to see how I was doing, and mostly to see that I met my goal at the end of the week. In the first couple of weeks, I pushed my goal higher each week until I got to a level where I knew I was getting outside quite a bit, but also not forcing the issue.

When you’re out and about in nature, is the technology a distraction in any way?

It’s no distraction at all. I have all notifications enabled and I don’t think I get anything more than one a week letting me know that I’ve reached my goal. I don’t have to turn the app on or start a workout or outdoor session. It all happens in the background.

Runners on the Pres Trail near Autzen stadium

Better Health, Right Outside

How NatureDose Works

It's no surprise that "Nature Prescriptions" were named one of the top global wellness trends by the Global Wellness Summit, and thousands of health care professionals and governments around the world are employing nature as a health tool.

Available for iPhone and Android OS, NatureDose is a personalized nature prescription tracker that not only helps you to measure your time indoors and outdoors—but also helps you assess the “green” value of your time outside.

Analyzing various data sets using a patent-pending system, the app measures the amount and quality of natural elements of any address. Elements including land classifications, park features, tree canopy cover, and pollution levels are weighted to create the highest correlation with the predictive health impacts, assigning a NatureScore.

The goal is to help users achieve a recommended minimum of 120 quality minutes per week exposed to the beneficial effects of truly natural environments.

300+
International Studies
300M
People Tracked
100M
Unique Health Outcomes

Demonstrate that greater exposure to nature can result in a longer, healthier, happier life.
(Sources: World Health Organization and PubMed.org)

 

The Kenneth H. and Kenda M. Singer Professor in Human Physiology, Chris Minson is affiliated with the UO’s Sport and Wellness Initiative, which addresses complex sport and wellness problems with innovative and applied solutions that benefit all people across ages, abilities, and health. It is one of the UO’s five Academic Initiatives that work across disciplines, developing the next generation of leaders and problem solvers. Learn more about Sport and Wellness and the UO’s other academic initiatives.