I’m not an expert. But, it does appear like we’re approaching the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. What, between less severe variants and reduced mask mandates, it certainly feels like we’re somewhat back to normal. If anything, COVID-19 will become epidemic and we’ll have to deal with it like the flu.
Regardless, I’m in no way advocating that you throw caution to the wind. If, for example, you’re immunocompromised, you should talk to your doctor about what precautions to take. I am, however, suggesting that you get yourself outside.
After all, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter — OK, I couple of winters. As such, you need to get outside and breathe. Why? Because it can do wonders for your health, wellbeing, and productivity.
Going Outside Increases Productivity
Over the years, research has found time and time again that spending outside increases productivity. In fact, one study reports that spending just 29-minutes outside increases productivity by 45 percent. What’s more 63 percent stated that feel better ‘in themselves’ after spending time in the fresh air.
A number of studies have also shown that even being exposed to natural light increases productivity as it promotes physical and mental health. Researchers found a link between windowless offices and reduced vitality, physical ailments, and poor sleep quality in a study of office workers’ health. Essentially, their normal activities, including work performance and productivity, were adversely affected.
The Benefits of Spending Time Outside
But, why does going outside and soaking up the sun boost productivity? Well, here are eight reasons why.
Our moods are improved when we spend time outside, according to many studies. Furthermore, research shows that spending time in nature can help reduce depression and anxiety risks.
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human wellbeing,” says Lisa Nisbet, Ph.D., a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, who studies connectedness to nature. “You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.”
Taking a 90-minute nature walk can increase your brain’s positivity, according to a study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Researchers found that participants who walked through nature had more positive perspectives on life. It is possible to measure or track the amount of blood flowing to “parts of the brain associated with rumination.”
Negative thoughts contribute to rumination, so the decrease in blood flow to this area of the brain proved that positivity increased. We’re typically more capable of achieving more when we are more positive. The reason? The absence of negative thoughts that may otherwise drag you down.
The effects of spending time in nature have been found to be similar to meditating on the brain and body. Studies have shown that being in a natural setting can decrease blood pressure and heart rate as well.
“We found that spending time in, or living close to, natural green spaces is associated with diverse and significant health benefits,” states lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “It reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm birth, and increases sleep duration.”
“People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate, and stress. In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol — a physiological marker of stress.
The Journal of Environmental Psychology published a series of studies that revealed people feel more alive in nature. “Nature is fuel for the soul,” said Richard Ryan, lead author and a professor at the University of Rochester. “Often when we feel depleted, we reach for a cup of coffee, but research suggests a better way to get energized is to connect with nature.”
Relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity.
It’s believed that nature can restore depleted attention circuits. As a result, we are more likely to be creative and deductive in our thinking.
“When you use your cell phone to talk, text, shoot photos, or whatever else you can do with your cell phone, you’re tapping the prefrontal cortex and causing reductions in cognitive resources,” says researcher David Strayer, of the University of Utah.
His team found, in a 2012 study, that hikers on a four-day backpacking trip solved 47 percent more puzzles requiring creativity than people waiting for the same hike.
It is possible that other factors account for his results, for instance, exercise or camaraderie, but prior studies suggest that nature itself might be a major factor. According to a study in Psychological Science, increased cognitive scores were attributed to the impact of nature on the body’s ability to restore attention.
In one study, the impact of nature on ADHD children was examined. Two groups of children walked in city parks and one group walked in urban settings. The children completed the assignment after walking for 20 minutes. Studies have shown that walking in the park improved the performance of children with ADHD.
Despite the fact that nature’s effects on concentration may not be as extreme as those described in that particular study, this idea merits exploration. In the course of a week, our concentration usually diminishes. In nature, it is possible to regain productivity that would otherwise be lost due to inattention.
Improved short-term memory.
A memory test was given to two groups of students at the University of Michigan. The first group then walked through an arboretum, and the second walked down a street in the city. The memory test was administered again after the two groups got back from their walk.
After walking through the arboretum, the group improved their scores by approximately 20 percent. However, the group that walked through the urban environment saw no improvements. In other words, the simple act of taking a walk in nature can support short-term memory, which in turn can boost productivity.
More interesting, an arboretum is not even outdoors. But, the view was sufficient to improve productivity.
By spending more time outside, you may be able to reduce pain naturally. Students who bathed in forests had lower levels of inflammation than their peers who stayed in the city, according to a 2012 study.
But, wait. What exactly is forest bathing?
In 1982, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries introduced the term “shinrin-yoku,” which translates as “forest bathing.” In this practice, people spend time in nature, without literally taking a bath.
How to Spend More Time Outside for Your Health
There are numerous ways to get more sunlight into your day, even if you work in a cubicle far from the only window in your office.
- Get a good night’s sleep and rise early. Make the most of your waking hours by being exposed to natural light instead of staying up late and sleeping late.
- Park further away and walk. If possible, park farther away from the entrance of our offices or stores rather than walking a few feet. In addition, you’ll get more exercise.
- Exercise outside. Take your workouts outside instead of the gym. Try going for a walk or a run, riding your bike, or even lifting weights in your backyard.
- Take your breaks near a window or outside. During breaks, get five or ten minutes of natural light. If this is not possible, find a spot by a window to enjoy your break.
- At lunchtime, go outside. Eat your lunch outside and take a walk during midday to rejuvenate yourself.
- Schedule walking meetings. Instead of being copped up inside, schedule more walking meetings. If it’s a virtual meeting, set up someone comfortable outside.
- When possible, sit near a window. Work by a window if you are using a laptop. If you’re at home, spend as much time as possible in light, airy rooms and choose a window seat for your commute.
Also, the benefits of being outdoors don’t always depend on the weather. So, if it’s chilly or raining, put on a coat or bring an umbrella — but try to get outside every day.
Image credit: Brennan Tolman; Pexels; Thank you!