Tuesday 16th July 2019

Most of us can probably fondly recall our parents encouraging us to get outside and “get some fresh air” during our childhood. We can probably also remember being informed of the importance of opening our bedroom windows occasionally, and as adults, many of us recognise just how much better we feel when we manage to step outside for a quick breather. But how often do we get the chance to do so during our workdays, when we’re so often cooped up in the office?

A recent study by Ambius said that 35% of US office workers spend less than 15 minutes outside each day, excluding their commuting time. The same research also found that only 13% of respondents spend a maximum of 30 minutes outside, with 26% spending little more than an hour outside each day.

Clearly, many of us are not getting enough time outside, with nature, and with the opportunity to bring fresh air into our lungs, as Kenneth Freeman, Head of Innovation at Ambius, points out:

“It is worrying how little time people are spending outside during the working day.

Whether this is on purpose or not, we should all make a conscious effort to ensure we are finding the time in our day to reconnect with nature in some way – even a 10-minute walk outside at lunchtime can be restorative”.

While this is a fantastic idea in practise, is it even possible for the average office worker? Many of us feel increasing pressure to be present during working hours, often with a foreboding sense of being chained to our desks in order to impress our seniors; one in five of us don’t leave our workstations during the day, with the average lunchtime in the UK down to just 22 minutes.

Hardly enough time to wolf down a salad and clock in that 10-minute stroll around the block. In fact, Ambius’ same study found that in the UK, just 40% of us are spending a maximum of 15 minutes outside each day.

So, when it comes to the time we’re spending outside during the working week, things are looking pretty dire. Exactly what kind of effect is this having on our mental and physical health?

According to Benenden Health, fresh air could actually make us happier, and can also help relieve stress – potentially a powerful result for the currently over-stretched working landscape. The simple act of taking a deep breath and exposing our lungs to fresh air, as well as the naturally uplifting scents emanating from flowers and plants, are reported to help reduce your levels of anxiety, and can help improve your mood. According to Dr Gladwell, a Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex:

Walking outside releases endorphins and hormones that promote better mood such as oxytocin, the feel-good hormone”.

But when our working lives are so complicated and hectic, what can we do to get more fresh air during the day? The obvious answer is to get outside during your breaks, for as long as possible. Though this may be easier said than done for much of the modern workforce, putting effort into stopping presenteeism culture, and taking the time to rest during the work day, is only going to be beneficial.

Per the University of Essex’s 2010 research, people who went for a 15-20-minute walk at lunchtime found they were able to relax more easily at night, leading to better quality sleep. Of course, there are other things that can be done to help, particularly to improve the air quality of an indoor workplace in general.

The World Health Organization (WHO) experts estimate that 30% of office buildings have poor indoor air quality, meaning being stuck indoors all day may even be dangerous for some people. Solutions such as building management systems can be put into place to manage CO2 levels and ventilation rates. Condeco aren’t ventilation experts, but there are guidelines available from JLL and NRDC, both of which can help you navigate the issue.

This approach may seem costly, but per JLL, doubling the ventilation rate in a typical office costs between $14 and $40 per person, and results in an equivalent improvement of up to $6,500 in productivity per person, per year.

Somewhat shockingly, there are currently no strict rules around the standard of air we breathe in workplaces around the world, although the WHO developed basic guidelines in 2009 to apply to indoor air quality in general. And it’s not just about air quality – getting direct sunlight on our skin, even for a few minutes, can also have a hugely positive impact upon our health.

Lack of sunlight can cause health issues such as vitamin D deficiency, resulting in feelings of tiredness, fatigue and low mood (definitely not helpful for workplace productivity!). It is estimated that worldwide, 1 billion people suffer from low levels of vitamin D in their bloodstream. We can’t think of a better reason to go outside and enjoy the sunshine!

Thirty-percent of the world’s population also suffer from various degrees of Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD, or winter depression). While SAD-combatting lights can help with this, getting outdoors during daylight hours in the winter, especially if you don’t work near a window, is imperative.

Overall, it seems we might have a small fight on our hands; improving our air quality and access to outside during the average working day isn’t always easy, but it is important. Talk to your colleagues and business leaders about the issue; perhaps even share with them our shocking statistics, to illustrate exactly why a 10 or 15-minute window to get outdoors (no pun intended) could not only be beneficial for individuals, but for your business overall.

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