Humans didn't evolve over millennia sitting in cubicles, typing away under fluorescent lights. Humans became humans outside under the blue sky, so perhaps it's no surprise that study after study shows that spending time in nature is profoundly good for us.

We already know that getting outside reduces stress, boosts happiness, and aids creativity. Now we can add one more benefit to the already long list of nature's positive impacts on our health and functioning. Spending time in nature has recently been shown to improve focus, so much so that simply ditching your office for a nearby park for awhile might even double your attention span.

Twice the focus with minimal effort

The researchers behind the study, led by professor Ming Kuo of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, didn't discover this remarkable fact while looking for ways to help cubicle warriors get more done despite their dreary surroundings. Instead, the team was studying where children learn best, but their findings have important implications for anyone who struggles to stay focused in a drab office.

For the study, the research team asked teachers to prepare and deliver identical lessons to groups of third graders. Some taught in standard classrooms, others outside in nature. Both groups then carried on their days inside. Independent experts reviewed all the lessons to determine which students were more engaged and which more distracted both during and after the initial lesson.

The bottom line: being out in nature doubled students' ability to pay attention.

"We found the teachers in our study were able to teach uninterrupted for almost twice as long after the outdoor lesson than after an indoor lesson," Kuo commented. "The students simply paid better attention after being in the outdoor class."

Lessons for office dwellers

That's interesting news for educators, but the implications for office-based professionals are pretty clear too, according to Kuo. And plenty of other studies back up the connection between time in nature and increased concentration

"Adults returning from wilderness backpacking vacations showed improved concentration afterward and more creativity (versus urban vacations), and research subjects who were shown pictures of nature (versus non-green urban settings) show boosted attention," she noted in an email to Inc.  

Bottom line: if getting out in nature has such dramatic effects on the ability of kids to settle down and concentrate, it's bound to offer an impressive boost to your ability to get stuff done too. Plus, it's dead simple to give it a try, and you don't even have to take time out of your busy day to muse silently under a tree. 

"The findings suggest that office workers would gain in concentration not only if they took 'recess' outside, but if they brought some work with them -- 'refueling in flight,'" Kuo adds.  

Published on: Jan 24, 2018
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