Niha Zubair, Arivale Clinical Research Scientist, PhD
A good portion of Americans spend most of their day indoors, in a cubicle, far away from nature. And it’s probably not a stretch to say a fair number of those people are dealing with the wellness fallout of high levels of stress combined with low levels of movement.
Quitting the rat race isn’t an option for most people. So, it’s important, wellness-wise, to improve the quality of life inside the workplace. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology and reported on by NBC News gives one possible solution: connecting people to nature during the workday.
For the study, researchers had 150 university students complete a given task, take a moment to stare at an image of either a regular concrete rooftop or a rooftop planted with grass to resemble a flowering meadow, then complete the task again. They found that after just 40 seconds of looking at the nature-imitating green roof, students made fewer errors and were less distracted during the task compared to students who looked at the concrete roof.
Researchers say the results suggest students’ brains received a boost to sub-cortical arousal and cortical attention control from their moment looking at the rooftop meadow. They say the study demonstrates the importance of both views of nature and micro-breaks during work.
NBC News expanded that conclusion to potentially support the concept of biophilia, which is the innate desire of humans to be connected to nature. While biophilia is still being debated, NBC News reports past studies1 have shown that things like the sound of running water or smell of a forest can improve stress, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The idea that interacting with nature can offer positive effects on health and well-being seems to be reasonably well-substantiated in the scientific literature. Life is busy and stressful, but it may be possible to improve attention and productivity by making simple changes to the work environment that increase the presence of nature.
While NBC News suggests printing office calendars adorned with images of nature, playing nature sounds in the office, or bringing in office plants2, an even better solution may be to take a walk outside to a park, waterfront, or other natural area during the workday. This kind of break could have a significant impact on your levels of stress and focus and have other positive health benefits as well.
- Tsunetsugu, Y., Park, BJ. & Miyazaki, Y. Trends in research related to “Shinrin-yoku” (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing) in Japan
Environ Health and Preventive Medicine (2010) 15: 27.
- Nieuwenhuis, M., Knight, C., Postmes, T., & Haslam, S. A. (2014). The relative benefits of green versus lean office space: Three field experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20(3), 199-214.