Want to be healthier and happier? Spend time with nature. Specifically, stay outside for at least 120 minutes per week.

Research has long shown the benefits of being outside. Being in the fresh air, among trees and grass or near water, clears the mind and calms the nerves, as proximity to greenspaces is linked to lowering stress and blood pressure and decreasing risks of asthma and diabetes. Studies also show that being outside can increase health and happiness. Until recently, however, scientists had no recommendations for how long people should be outside to reap the benefits. Now, a new study in Nature Scientific Reports answers that question.


Study Results: Being Outside Benefits Everyone

Between 2014 and 2016, the study asked 20,000 people in England to report their activities within the past week. People who had spent time outside for two hours or more indicated better health and happiness than those who did not get out at all. Specifically, people who were outside two to three hours were 20% more likely to report higher satisfaction with their lives and 60% more likely to report better health. Interestingly, these results were consistent across gender, race, age, abilities, and economic demographics.

Researchers found the sweet spot of being outside was no less than two hours a week and no more than five (apparently, more is not always better). At 60 to 90 minutes, the benefits were minimal and after 5 hours, the benefits began to decrease. The two hour period didn’t have to take place all at once but could be cumulative throughout the week.


How Businesses Can Use Study Results

Businesses are always looking at ways to help employees be and feel better. This study shows that one answer may be as simple as encouraging them to be outside—and to ensure they have time to do it.

  • Companies that have trails, nearby parks, or lakefronts can encourage walking meetings. This strategy has the additional benefit of introducing physical activity into the workday.
  • Companies that have space could fund a company vegetable garden and employees could volunteer to manage it. This activity provides a trifecta of benefits: being outside, physical activity, and nutrition. It also aligns well with green initiatives promoting sustainability.
  • Buildings that have outdoor patios can install WiFi, outlets, and shaded tables and chairs to help employees be productive outside.
  • Because employees may be hesitant to spend work time outside for fear it will be viewed negatively, leaders should take the lead. Make going for a walk after lunch part of the routine and ask others to join you. End work early mid-week and invite all employees to a healthy outdoor social hour.

Companies are always looking for ways to help their employees be well. This study suggests that one solution does not have to be complicated. By explaining the benefits of being outside, providing opportunities for employees to get out of the office, and modeling the behavior through leadership support, businesses can help employers live healthier and happier lives, with an investment of a few minutes at a time.

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