New Study: Walking During Lunch Can Create A Better Work Day

April 26, 2017

Recently, a study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that taking a relaxing, 15-minute walk during a lunch break provides employees with better focus and less fatigue during the afternoon hours. The researchers also learned that the effects of this walk may last into the evening hours, when making dinner, helping children with homework and other evening tasks require energy and concentration.

While we know that a regular exercise routine increases energy, how does a brief, relaxing nature walk re-energize employees for an entire afternoon and evening?

“By breaking up the day with a walk outdoors, the brain is allowed a rest from the cognitive process required during the work day,” explains Jacque Crockford, a senior health and fitness expert for American Council on Exercise. “This can lead to better production and more creativity. Being exposed to the outdoors also elicits a recovery effect on the body, allowing a relaxed state to come more easily.”

Light physical activity also increases circulation in the body and helps change the monotony of the regular workday, particularly if you sit in an office. A brief walk during lunch can also lead to changing habits, including more exercise and improved health and wellness.

“Choosing to go for a short walk also means not choosing other behaviors that can be less helpful to wellness – such as remaining sedentary for prolonged periods of time, overeating after a meal, or turning to substances to ‘help relax’,” explains Dr. Courtney Johnson, a clinical psychologist with Indiana University Health. “Choosing to go to a new environment throughout the work day or at the end of a busy day can help shift the mind from the focus of work or stressors with the opportunity to notice things in the environment.”

Taking breaks from work can also help provide a fresh perspective, increase focus, and even potentially prevent burnout. Getting out of the office, even if it’s brief, can help the mind rest and recover.

The researchers of this study focused on walks in nature, based on the facts that people respond positively to natural environments and they have restorative effects. For those who don’t have a park nearby, there are other ways to produce similar results.

“Everyone is different in terms of what types of surroundings they find enjoyable or relaxing,” says Dr. Johnson. “Walking, in general, is helpful, and walking in places that someone finds pleasant can bring an extra level of satisfaction and enjoyment.”

For those who choose to take be immersed in nature during their lunch break, there are ways to go about it without a park nearby. “Find a spot of grass to stand barefoot in, or a tree to lay underneath or a neighborhood playground to walk around – those would all be great options,” suggests Crockford. “Walking outside down a busy city street may also offer similar benefits. Perhaps calming music could be played into headphones while holding a leaf or something else from nature to mimic the connection with the outdoors.”

In addition to asking study participants to take a leisurely nature walk, others were asked to focus on relaxation exercises, such as meditation, and although both experienced less afternoon fatigue, the walks were found to be more enjoyable than the relaxation exercises, and contributed to less fatigue through enjoyment. When walks are not option, either due to weather or location, other activities such as standing yoga poses, tai chi, going up and down a few flights of steps, chatting with a friend or even seated exercises may provide you with better focus and less fatigue during the afternoon hours.

-- By Gia Miller

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