It was a grey autumn day when I met Sean at Rushden Lakes for a business meeting. The sky was leaden, and it was a wee bit chilly. But getting outside was the best thing ever…
Beavers scurried on the bank their whiskers twitching in the wind, snakes slithered past tongues flicking to and fro, and frogs hopped around in the leaf litter releasing a damp, earthy aroma.
Okay, so my imagination has run away with me – I don’t think these sculptures moved. But there were real cormorants fishing, herons diving AND a fantastic adventure playground hidden in the trees!
But most importantly, those two hours netwalking did more for my wellbeing and for my productivity at work than the previous two weeks.
1. Walking in nature makes you feel good
As well as improving your physical health, walking increases wellbeing and helps fight against stress and depression. As you start moving, feel-good endorphins are released into your bloodstream and you may get a surge of cortisol if you exercise vigorously enough. But your cortisol level will decrease quickly afterwards restoring balance to your system and you’ll be able to handle stress better.
“If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity [like walking], it would be regarded as a ‘wonder drug’ or a ‘miracle cure’” – Liam Donaldson, England’s Chief Medical Officer, 2010
But there’s growing evidence that walking in nature is especially good for you (e.g. The Nature Fix, Shinrin Yoku). Mild to moderate exercise outside will actively decrease your cortisol levels because nature takes you away from micro-stressors like technology and man-made noise. And a study by Gregory Bratman and colleagues has shown it stops you brooding (i.e. going over and over all that’s wrong with yourself and your life) – brooding can be a precursor to depression.
2. Being outside increases your creativity and productivity
People have inherently known this for centuries:
“We should take wandering outdoor walks so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing” – Seneca (the Roman Stoic philosopher)
But now science is proving it: One study found a 50% increase in problem solving after four days in nature. And this Finnish experiment showed workers who went for a lunchtime walk outside had higher levels of concentration and lower strain afterwards, compared with those who didn’t.
You don’t have to put much conscious effort into walking so your mind is free to wander, imagine and create. There’s space for you to think differently. Activity slows in the front part of your brain responsible for higher-order thinking (e.g. memory, judgement and language) allowing the rest of your grey matter to get going. The change in stimulation and focus as you walk in nature creates new connections between your brain cells so you start getting fresh ideas. And overall, your productivity increases.
But make sure you walk in a green environment where possible because the busyness of cities with all their distractions can overstimulate the parts of the brain that walking is meant to dampen.
Go netwalking to feel good and boost your productivity
Netwalking simply combines walking outside with business networking.
Although lots of organised events exist (e.g. Walkie Talkie Wednesdays, Natural Netwalking) you could just take your office meetings outside like Sean and I did. Whatever you decide it will improve your wellbeing and boost your productivity. Win-win.
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