Get Outside! How Nature Enhances Work Productivity

Seven surprising findings that highlight the powerful connection between nature and the human mind.

Spring is a time of rebirth — of new beginnings, new goals, and new challenges. It is a time where the budding flowers and sunny weather makes everyone feel alive again. It also signals the end of winter, serving as a reminder to get outside and take that mid afternoon walk we keep promising ourselves we will take. We live in a technological world that demands constant communication - a world that makes it difficult for us to shut off, go outside, and relax for a second. As a result, people spend 25% less time in nature as compared to just 20 years ago (1). Although it can be hard to get outside during the hustle of the workweek, research shows that people who spend more time outdoors are not only calmer and healthier but also smarter and more successful inside the office.

Here are some compelling reasons to take a break from your desk and spend this down time outdoors:

1. Improves Short Term Memory

In one study, researchers conducted a brief memory test on University of Michigan students who were then divided into two groups. One group walked around an arboretum, while the others walked down a city street. The researchers conducted the memory test again and the participants who had walked in nature did almost 20% percent better than the first time. The ones who took the urban route did not improve(2).

2. Sparks Inspiration

Humans have always looked to nature for inspiration to solve problems, from innovative technical solutions such as prosthetic arms biomimicking octopus tentacles and Japanese high speed trains reflecting the shape of the kingfisher’s beak to the incredible artistry feats from Claude Monet’s poppy fields to William Wordsworth’s odes(3). German researchers have found that even just seeing the color green for a mere few seconds boosts creativity levels as compared to looking at other colors (4).

3. Decreases Stress Levels

After just 20 minutes in a natural setting,the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health has reported, our levels of cortisol, which is a stress indicator, decrease significantly (5). Seattle-based environmental psychologist Judith Heerwagon tells The Huffington Post, “Just looking at a garden or trees or going for a walk, even if it’s in your own neighborhood, reduces stress,” she says. “I don’t think anyone understands why, but there’s something about being in a natural setting that shows clear evidence of stress reduction, including physiological evidence — like lower heart rate” (6).

4. Increases Concentration Skills

In a study on how nature effects concentration levels, researchers took a group of children with ADHD and split them into two groups. One group spent time in outdoor green spaces, and the other group spent time playing indoors. The outside group showed fewer symptoms of ADHD than their counterparts, even while performing the same tasks (6).

5. Boosts Positivity

A study published by the Proceeding of the National Academy of Science says a 90-minute walk through nature can positively affect your brain. The researchers found that, of the 38 participants, the ones who walked through the park and not the urban environment, “showed lower levels of blood flow to the parts of the brain associated with rumination” (Rumination is a pattern of thought focused on the negatives of oneself)(7). There is also the idea that we respond positively to things that are inherently good for us and our survival, “which is why trees and other natural elements can help lift our moods” (6).

6. Enhances Creative Functions

A study published in the Huffington Post found a correlation between nature and creativity. A team of researchers compared a group of backpackers before and after they spent four days on the trail. They found that the “backpackers were 50 percent more creative after they had spent four days on the trail.” Though these findings are for four days outside, getting outside for just a small amount of time still lets the prefrontal cortex recover, says one of the researchers, and “that’s when we see these bursts in creativity, problem-solving, and feelings of well-being” (8).

7. Increases Mindfulness

World renowned researcher and psychologist Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies a variety of positive emotions such a joy, mindfulness, and inspiration, in her best selling book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life. In this, she observes that nature is so fascinating and soothing, it has the ability to take away your mind from other worries. By being in nature increases our awareness of our surrounding and ourselves while decreasing the other thoughts that occupy our days.

These seven reasons highlight the powerful connection between nature and the human mind. So take a walk. Grab a cup of joe by Central Park. By spending time outdoors and boosting your brain power, you spend less time in the office and get better results. With spring finally here, there is no better time to make this change to your lifestyle.

  1. Pergams, Oliver R. W., and Patricia A. Zaradic. “Evidence for a Fundamental and Pervasive Shift Away from Nature-based Recreation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. National Acad Sciences, n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2017.
  2. Lauren F Friedman and Kevin Loria. “11 Scientifically Proven Reasons You Should Go Outside.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 09 Apr. 2014. Web. 7 March 2017
  3. How Nature Ignites Creativity.” THNK The Outdoors Prescription How Nature Ignites Creativity Comments. School of Creative Leadership, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 7 March 2017.
  4. “A Green Scene Sparks Our Creativity.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 28 Mar. 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
  5. Roe, Jenny J., Catharine Ward Thompson, Peter A. Aspinall, Mark J. Brewer, Elizabeth I. Duff, David Miller, Richard Mitchell, and Angela Clow. “Green Space and Stress: Evidence from Cortisol Measures in Deprived Urban Communities.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. MDPI, n.d. Web. 7 March 2017.
  6. Wise, Abigail. “Here’s Proof Going Outside Makes You Healthier.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 22 June 2014. Web. 7 March 2017.
  7. Goodstein, Eli. “Stanford University Study Says Spending Time in Nature Benefits Mental Health.” USA TODAY College. Stanford University, 09 July 2015. Web. 7 March 2017.
  8. Leader, Jessica. “Nature-Creativity Study Links The Great Outdoors With Positive Psychological Effects.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 31 May 2012. Web. 7 March 2017.

Originally published at mindfulmatters.blogs.bucknell.edu on April 21, 2016.