It’s Patio Time! Head Outside to Give Your Brain a Break

by | Wellness

It’s Patio Time! Head Outside to Give Your Brain a Break
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Spending time outdoors is one of those things we did more of over the past two years, both because it was one of few activities available but also because it helped us cope with stress. Now, as people return to offices, will it be one of the practices that survives the transition or will we revert back to our indoor lives?

Experts are encouraging us to preserve this pandemic practice in the name of our health – but also for our productivity.

As summer peeks around the corner, it may not be as hard to maintain a daily dose of sunshine and fresh air as we might have once thought. With wellness so top of mind in our collective consciousness, particularly as we celebrate mental health month, there’s been great progress in driving awareness and recognition of the benefits of time spent in nature.

Studies have repeatedly shown even as little as 20 minutes a day drives meaningful benefits. “There is something about the kind of moderately interesting stimuli found in nature – even those in a simple city park – that is restorative for our brains,” wrote Laurence C. Smith in Scientific American. Time spent in nature lowers blood pressure, increases vitamin D in the body, improves immune response, and reduces mental fatigue. It has also been shown to give us more energy than another cup of coffee.  Based on their similar benefits, many researchers have even gone so far as to equate time in nature with that spent in meditation.

By reducing the body’s natural stress response – which tends to be increasingly triggered by contemporary lifestyles – outdoor time allows our brains to more easily move beyond basic functions to more advanced brain activities like creative thinking and focus. One 2021 study reiterated that “our brain structure and mood improve when we spend time outdoors. This most likely also affects concentration, working memory, and the psyche as a whole.” Richard Louv pushed the concept even further as he traced the scientific research in his seminal works “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle.” First focused on children and then on adults, he explored the role of what he called “nature deficit disorder” in developmental health, obesity, psychiatric disorders, and other modern maladies.

Even better: combining outdoor time with social interaction. If we learned anything through the pandemic, it’s been the dangers of social isolation. With over 76% of remote workers citing a lack of social interaction as the worst part of their jobs, one of the most fascinating insights to emerge from recent work-life studies has been the clear desire to collaborate, engage, and build “in-person” relationships with professional colleagues again. But as many of us are still acclimating to all the social stimulation again, one way to smooth that transition might be to start small – with one or two people – and meet outdoors.

It doesn’t have to be hard. Here are a few ideas to work more outdoor time into an office schedule:

  • Shift your perspective.  Laptops have been successful for a reason, so make use of their portability to enjoy a change of scenery and break up the monotony of your normal work station. Sit outside on a patio. Move next to a different window. Remember that new surroundings, fresh air, and sunshine are notorious for facilitating creative breakthroughs!
  • Take advantage of nearby parks or trails for walking meetings. Step away from the screen and spend your next one-on-one walking a mile loop near your workplace. Even better news: you and your partner don’t have to walk the same route. Grab your phone and go!
  • Eat outdoors or go out for lunch. We all know eating at our desks is bad for our health. Meet up with colleagues and walk out to grab lunch together, or brown bag it on the patio or in the park across the street together.
  • Can’t get out for even a minute?  Then at the very least take some time to stare out the window. Find a patch of green. Watch the wind blow. Follow the clouds. Give yourself brain breaks and notice the world around you.

At Expansive, looking for ways to bring the outside in has always been one of our space design priorities. It’s why we plan our facilities to maximize windows and sunlight into interior spaces. It also drives our prioritization of outdoor spaces whenever possible – from roof decks in Denver, Norfolk, and San Diego to a garage door-style wall that opens to the sidewalk in Jacksonville and lounge-accessed balconies in Chicago and Orlando, we’re proud of the 12 locations in our portfolio that boast outdoor amenities and are actively working to add more every year.

We also look for outdoor access in evaluating potential center locations. We love to place centers within walking distance of parks, trails, and scenic locations like Cathedral Square in Milwaukee, The Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Indianapolis, the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, and Johnson Square in Savannah. Eleven more of our centers across the country offer parks or iconic outdoor landmarks within two blocks.

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