How Nature Improves Our Health
As stated by the American Heart Association, spending time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety, improve your mood, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being. Providing our body and mind with some much needed time in nature provides very similar results to that of practicing meditation. Some additional, science-backed benefits of getting outdoors include:
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved the immune system
- Improved creativity and productivity
- Reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Increased energy levels and physical activity
- Reduced risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health complications
You might be wondering; how does nature benefit our health and well-being so significantly? It is because we as humans have a biological connection to nature and we instinctively seek connections with nature. This phenomenon, first introduced by Edward O. Wilson in 1984, is called biophilia. The term is derived from the Greek words for “life” and “love or affection;” making its literal translation “love of life,” which sums up how important being in nature is for our overall mental and physical health.
How Much Time Should We Spend In Nature?
While some of the above listed benefits can be felt or noticed immediately after spending time in a nature, a one study discovered the exact amount of time that is needed to experience optimal well-being. This study, led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, included nearly 20,000 participants and focused on the amount of time they spent in green spaces. Optimal feelings of mental and physical health peaked between 200-300 minutes per week, with the least amount of benefits being reported at less than 120 minutes per week. The conclusion of the study was that individuals must spend at least 120 minutes per week in natural environments. The good news is, it didn’t matter how this time was accumulated over the week. It could be in bouts of 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or even the entire 120 minutes in one day. This makes it a very achievable goal for anyone, regardless of their schedule!
What Can Employers Do?
April is Stress Awareness Month! Now is the perfect time to educate your employees on how being in nature can help them manage stress and encourage them to take part in more outdoor activities when the weather allows. Listed below are some examples of how you can encourage them to get outdoors during the work week:
- Set up a patio area with tables, chairs and umbrellas (if you don’t have one already!) and encourage employees to take their breaks outside or eat lunch outside.
- Let employees reserve the patio area for meetings just like any conference room.
- Schedule walking meetings outdoors and encourage teams to do the same when they can.
- Hold team building exercises at a nearby park.
- Incorporate family friendly after-work activities such as a running/walking club, sports in the park or outdoor yoga.
In addition to encouraging employees to spend more time outdoors, you can also consider “biophilic design” for the office. This design concept mimics nature and incorporates a variety of plants, nature photos or artwork as decor and earth tones throughout the space. While this isn’t the same as spending time outdoors, it has still been proven to help relieve stress and improve both productivity and creativity!