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How access to green space can boost wellness in the workplace

Many of us have experienced the mood-lifting magic that comes from a bouquet a flowers or a walk in a tree-filled park. So it’s no wonder that flowers and plants are common in places where people might want a pick-me-up, like hospital bedsides, waiting rooms and workplaces. But is there a scientific basis for the belief that exposure to greenery is good for you?

According to Emma Seppälä, PhD, the associate director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and Johann Berlin, the answer is, "yes."

In a recent article on wellness in the workplace in Harvard Business Review, Seppälä and Berlin point out that workplaces often have health-related programs related to exercise, mindfulness, compassion and emotional intelligence. Yet access to green spaces is sometimes overlooked, and this wellness factor may be most the potent of all.

"Greenery isn’t just an air-freshener that’s pleasant to look at, it can actually significantly boost employee well-being, reduce stress, enhance innovative potential, and boost a sense of connection," Seppälä and Berlin write. They continue:

Scientists are also exploring how exposure to nature might result in lower risk of depression, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. The immune system certainly receives a boost from stress-reduction, and even just the sounds of nature trigger a relaxation response in the brain. Exposure to natural environments lowers stress, including its physiological correlates the “stress hormone” cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure. By boosting mood, natural environments may also decrease inflammation at the cellular level.

So how much nature do you need to gain these health benefits?

If there isn't a tree, park or even a strip of lawn in sight from your workspace, don't panic. Even minimal access to green space can pay off big, Seppälä and Berlin explain. One study found that even the minimal addition of office plants was enough to boost employee well-being and productivity by fifteen percent.

If potted plants aren't an option, Seppälä and Berlin suggest taking breaks outside, using as much natural light as possible and displaying photos of nature on or around your workspace as a practical way to get some greenery into your workday.

Previously: Jumping on the “happiness track” with author and Stanford psychologist Emma Seppälä10% happier? Count me in!Breaking down happiness into measurable goalsStudy shows happiness and meaning in life may be different goals and What email does to your brain
Photo by Chris Shipton

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