Now that spring has finally arrived, employees around the U.S. are becoming more physically active and spending additional time outdoors. While a leisurely stroll may sound like an after-hours activity, taking a break to enjoy the beautiful weather can be a useful motivator when things get stressful at the office. The modern work environment has employees spending hours sitting at desks or in conference rooms, which can be both tedious and harmful to their overall health. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dr. James Levin, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, suggested that sedentary work behaviors significantly contribute to a range of common ailments, from obesity to heart disease. To get an idea of how breaks can help your workers stay productive and healthy this spring, consider the following advantages of encouraging on-the-clock physical activities:
1. Improved blood circulation leads to clearer thinking
One of the main benefits of physical activity is that it often causes the heart to pump at a faster rate, circulating more blood and oxygen to muscles and vital organs. According to the Lung Institute, the brain uses around 25% of a person's oxygen intake and relies on a consistent supply to function efficiently. In most cases, prolonged bouts of sedentary behavior can slow blood circulation to the brain, leading to poor judgment, uncoordinated movement and a general decline in cognition.
Encouraging walk breaks and outdoor lunches can help improve your employees' blood circulation, which in turn may stimulate the areas of their brains that deal with critical thinking. This can not only boost individual productivity, it may also lead to better overall brain function and promote healthier break habits moving forward.
2. Taking a walk can boost creativity
While there are a wide variety of studies that link physical activity to enhanced thinking capabilities, the impact it can have on creativity is less understood. However, a 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition found that walking outdoors can significantly boost creative ideation and divergent thinking. The researchers also discovered that the residual creative effects of taking a walk continued to motivate the free flow of ideas even after the participants had returned to a seated position.
Engaging with complex concepts and workflows often requires a high degree of creative problem solving, which can be stimulated by a short walk around the block. Taking a break to soak up the warm and sunny weather may help your employees discover innovative solutions that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
3. Physical activity is a natural mood enhancer
Working in a fast-paced environment can be stressful and frustrating, and it can be hard to take a step back without first having a change in scenery. A 2017 article from Psychology Today pointed out that effective breaks allow employees to "mentally disengage from work thoughts" while also promoting positive emotions. Taking a short in-office break may limit your workers' ability to obtain the psychological detachment they need to recharge and refocus, making outdoor excursions valuable for sustaining positive morale.
Generally speaking, physical activities are known to reduce stress, improve your memory, uplift your mood and boost your energy levels. These benefits can help employees regain their composure after a difficult workplace interaction and enhance their overall performance.
While it's important to encourage your current staff to take outdoor breaks, the practice can also be a useful tool during the recruitment process. Demonstrating your organization's commitment to employee health and satisfaction can help you attract top talent in a competitive hiring market, especially if you're trying to fill a traditional office position.