Thoreau may have been onto something with his classic treatise on outdoor life, Walden: getting outdoors is good for us! Here at Adventure Associates, we’ve long known and seen the benefits of facilitating programs in nature. It can do wonders for the mind and for the collective energy of a group. It’s for this very reason that we offer so many outdoor team building options.
But while we might anecdotally “feel” like the great outdoors are is good for us, is there any harder evidence for this? As a matter of fact, there is.
Studies like this one have shown that getting outside to walk around is a great booster shot for our creative minds. While it’s true that walking is good for us regardless of where we do it, the effects of outdoor walks is particularly beneficial. The study linked to above compared test results between groups who did and didn’t walk outdoors and found that participants who walked outside were able to generate the most novel responses to the test analogies being used to judge creativity. So the next time your team is struggling to come up with a creative solution to a problem, it might be time to head step out for a walking meeting or join us for a Breakthrough Trek.
Calming and Relaxing
While the mechanism isn’t entirely understood, studies have found intriguing stress-busting benefits of spending time outdoors in nature. For instance, one study found a drop in cortisol (a stress marker) after students spent a couple nights in the woods. Another study corroborated the cortisol level drops plus a drop in heart rate levels and a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity (this is what controls fight or flight reactions). As noted in the study mentioned above, the Japanese actually have a term for stepping out into nature and soaking up the beauty: shinrinyoku, which roughly translates to forest bathing. In fact, the Forest Ministry of Japan has been prescribing the practice since 1982.
Short-term memory boost
The benefits of nature also extend to memory, with a study finding a measurable bump participants’ recall ability. The University of Michigan researchers noted a 20% increase in short term memory performance after a stroll in nature.
Mental fatigue and restorative environments
With our lives seemingly more and more hectic, with a never ending supply of stimuli including screens of all types, our modern lives can be quite fatiguing mentally. Nature is a great remedy for this over stimulation. A study measuring participants brain wave activity during a walk in nature versus a walk in an urban environment found people’s minds much quieter in green spaces. What’s truly remarkable, though, is nature’s ability to be both engaging and restorative at the same time, creating something referred to as “involuntary attention” in psychology, which means it can hold our attention while still allowing plenty of mental room for introspection.
Numerous studies have shown an improvement in symptoms for children with ADHD when taken outdoors. Exposure to green spaces has been shown to improve attention spans and concentration — and in one study the effects were on par with Ritalin! Suffice it to say that somehow nature helps us order our minds so that they can be more efficient and focused. So if you are feeling your mind wandering during crunchtime, it might actually be time for a break outside.
Time spent in the great outdoors offers a myriad of benefits. While it’s something that many people have seemed to know intuitively, we now see that science has proved these feelings true. The cognitive benefits alone provide a serious incentive for work teams to get outside — either to tackle big problems or just regain mental clarity and focus. And, of course, it’s also a fantastic reason to get outdoors for a fun team building event that gets everyone engaged and energized.
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