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Time outdoors is a natural elixir. Researchers still don’t know why.

At least two decades of research confirms what might seem obvious for many residents of the Pacific Northwest: time in nature is good for you. It can lower blood pressure, alleviate depression and anxiety, and even reduce nearsightedness in children.

But how often should you interact with the natural world? Where? And for how long? Is gazing at the stars from your backyard enough to reap rewards? Would a solitary, seven-day backpacking trip in the Cascades yield greater results?

Can you really take two hikes and call the doctor in the morning?

A wide-ranging team of researchers at the University of Washington hopes to answer many of these questions through the Nature for Health initiative. The effort, launched in October with a $1 million grant from outdoor retailer REI, brings specialists from disciplines including ecology, urban planning, public health, geography and the visual arts together with pediatricians, child-care providers and mental-health professionals.

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