5 Ways to Improve Productivity By Breathing Easier Poor indoor air quality undermines our health in subtle ways not easily noticeable at first.

By Lucinda Honeycutt

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tsuneo Yamashita

If you're struggling with productivity, you're not alone. A recent study shows that poor air quality can make it more difficult to solve problems, focus, think and reason. This validates what many people have suspected, the air quality inside your home plays a role in your overall productivity. Follow these steps to make sure you've got air worth breathing.

1. Invest in house plants.

Most people know that house plants can improve air quality, but the well-being benefits associated with indoor plants is far greater than many imagine. Surrounding yourself with plants improves concentration, attention span and memory by as much as 20 percent. Flowering plants help increase feelings of security and relaxation and have been documented as reducing the likelihood of depression caused by stress. Spending time in environments filled with natural elements increases energy levels and perceived vitality. Finally, the act of cultivating plants is associated with lower stress levels.

Related: Want More of Those Eureka Moments? Control Your Breathing.

House plants are an ideal way to receive multiple health benefits through a single addition to your home or office environment. Choose a house plant that significantly improves air quality and you will simultaneously receive the other health and well-being benefits associated with plants. Some of the most popular plants for improving air quality include aloe vera, gerbera daisies, chrysanthemums, English ivy and the peace lily.

2. Change your flooring.

Did you know you can fight allergies with the right flooring? Carpet can be a major contributor to indoor allergies, which naturally make it more difficult to breathe and feel productive. A renovation using hardwood or linoleum is a better choice because they do not allow dust mites to thrive and they do not trap outdoor allergens inside. They are also far easier to clean. If removing carpet is not an option, the Mayo Clinic recommends using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuuming weekly along with shampooing the carpet on a regular basis. While you're cleaning, be sure to vacuum drapes and upholstered furniture as well.

3. Watch your humidity levels.

Indoor humidity levels are important to overall air quality for a number of reasons. Dust mites and mold are common allergens that trigger asthma in many people. Both of these grow and reproduce in environments with higher humidity levels. A recent study suggested optimal indoor humidity levels should be maintained at between 40 and 60 percent to minimize mold, dust mites and the spread of various pathogens.

Related: The Air You Breathe at Work May Be Slowing You Down

Depending on where you live this may mean the utilization of an air conditioner much of the year. Other ways to lower humidity include installing efficient ventilation fans in the kitchen and bathrooms, seal air and cut leaks, and run a dehumidifier. It is important to note that during the winter it may be necessary to use steam humidifiers in some areas to keep the indoor humidity levels high enough to keep air passages moist and healthy.

4. Use natural cleaning products and air fresheners.

Cleaning is one of those chores most people dread. It isn't exactly fun but everyone knows it needs to be done to create healthy indoor environments. Unfortunately, some of the products used to clean your home or office may be negatively impacting the air quality of the spaces. The list of cleaning product ingredients, and their associated hazards, is long. It is easier to learn more about natural cleaning products and replace potentially hazardous products.

Making your own cleaning products is far easier than the aisles of cleaning items on store shelves would lead one to believe. There are a few staples necessary to make the switch to homemade cleaning solutions, including salt, borax, baking soda, vinegar, lemons and castile soap. With these items, you can replace nearly all of the specialty store bought cleaning products and improve your indoor air quality.

Air fresheners and scented cleaning products, can also release toxins into the air that make it difficult for some people to breathe. Even potpourri can be an irritant depending on the way it has been treated. An all-natural alternative is as simple as boiling water. Bring a small pot of water to a boil with natural scents you enjoy and then allow it to simmer, adding water as necessary. Popular air freshening combinations include lemon, orange, clove and cinnamon or any other mixture you enjoy.

5. Practice deep breathing exercises.

Once the air quality of the space has been improved it is time to practice some deep breathing exercises to further boost productivity. Much of the time, productivity issues are caused by anxiety or stress. Deep breathing can help calm the fight or flight reflex that often accompanies heightened stress and anxiety. It will likely feel unnatural at first, but with practice, it becomes easier and is one of the quickest ways to allow your mind to refocus on an intended task.

Related: This Desk Helps Keep You Healthy By 'Breathing'

Begin by removing distractions and find a place to sit or lay comfortably. Take a normal breath and then slowly breathe in through your nose. Allow your lower belly and chest to expand as the lungs fill and slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this for five to 10 minutes until the stress fades and you are able to focus again. Ideally, this should become a daily habit that lasts between 10 and 20 minutes a day. Making it a regular practice lowers overall stress levels and can boost concentration and productivity throughout the day.

It is easy to take our personal spaces for granted. When something becomes familiar we often overlook it and fail to notice when it becomes detrimental to our health and well-being. Indoor air quality can deteriorate slowly and begin impacting our health in subtle ways that are completely unnoticeable at first. If you find you've had more difficulty focusing and maintaining appropriate levels of productivity, take the time to evaluate your space. A few changes could be all it takes to re-ignite your creative spark.

Lucinda Honeycutt

Freelance writer and web designer

Lucinda Honeycutt is a freelance writer and web designer nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. She's a tech geek, foodie and research junkie who writes about a little bit of everything.

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