6 Benefits of Unchaining Yourself From Your Desk to Take a Break Outside
Working in a stuffy, artificially-lighted office all day can make you tired and cranky but there is a cure, and it’s as close as the nearest door. Take your work outside. Being out in nature does your body, mind and soul some good.
Whether it’s a bench in a nearby courtyard, a table at a sidewalk café or a lawn chair in your own backyard, the world is full of outdoor places where you can brainstorm, daydream or create a personal workspace.
Studies show that encounters with nature help alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind, which ultimately contributes to improved work performance and satisfaction.
Here are some other ways that working outdoors can contribute to your overall health and well-being.
1. Soak up some sunshine.
The typical office environment can be stress-inducing. Get outside and soak up some vitamin D, one of the fat-soluble vitamins essential to strong bones and a healthy immune system. While much debate exists around the guidelines, some researchers suggest that five to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at least twice a week is sufficient for vitamin D synthesis. Of course, this recommendation also comes with a caveat you already know. Always wear sunscreen when possible.
2. Take a stroll around the block.
No matter how ergonomically-optimized your workstation is, sitting stationary in an office swivel chair for hours on end doesn't enhance your posture. Get out of your seat and onto your feet. When you choose to take a walk, it does your body good. One way to get some daily low-impact exercise is to take meetings outside and walk with your co-workers or colleagues. A 2011 study found that outdoor exercise was associated with greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression when compared to indoor activity. Another study found that people who simply take short walking breaks have lower rates of obesity and other risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
3. Commune with nature.
When you feel tired at work, your first thought may be to pour yourself another cup of coffee. But a caffeine jolt is just a short-term fix that can come with a crash. Rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit the natural, healthy way by getting outside and into nature. Research has shown that the outdoors have an overall positive effect on vitality, or your sense of enthusiasm, aliveness, and energy. Spend some time taking in the fresh air and experience a physical pick-me-up.
4. Breathe in the fresh air.
The California Air Resources Board estimates that on average, indoor air pollution is 25 to 62 percent higher than outdoor pollutant levels. So if you find it more difficult to breathe when you’re at work, it might be more than just heavy job responsibilities weighing on your chest. Your lungs may actually be doing overtime duty trying to filter double the amount of particulate matter floating around. Get outdoors and exercise your lungs so you can breathe easier and feel better.
5. Look on the bright side.
Lack of adequate exposure to natural sunlight can cause Vitamin D deficiency, depression, sleep disorders and weight gain. People are most at risk in winter, when it’s generally cloudier, causing an annual epidemic of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). But workers in windowless offices can suffer year-round light deprivation by spending too much time indoors. When the weather is pleasant, take your lunch break in a nearby park.
6. Cultivate your creativity.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. Perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas. Stanford researchers found that walking, indoors or outdoors, boosts creative inspiration. So, when you hit a wall with a challenging project, instead of banging your head against it, get outside. It will help you think outside the box and find the innovative solution you’re looking for.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).