By Miranda Massie on August 3, 2017
Summer is in full swing. The beautiful weather at this time of year always reminds me to appreciate the stunning natural environment in which we live, work and play. At UBC, we are unique in that we are just a short walk away from beaches, forests, gardens and natural wonders that draw tourists from around the globe. With this realization though, my internal motivation to stay inside and work can sometimes take a hit.
On the plus side, research tells us that we do not have to be outside to reap the benefits of our natural surroundings. The new Wellbeing Design Lab in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) at UBC Vancouver is a great example of how to enhance your physical space in order to optimize wellbeing.
Click on the video below for a virtual tour of the space.
When designing the lab, the wellbeing of its occupants was top of mind. Some of the features in the space include height adjustable desks, a Pacific Spirit Park wall mural, different plant varieties, flexible and varied spaces, and natural light.
Read on to find out how you can boost your health while indoors.
Furniture that can be adapted or customized to suit a variety of needs helps to increase productivity and accessibility while also boosting social connectivity and inclusivity.
Try: Re-arranging your desk layout, adding a keyboard tray or attending a free Sit-Stand Desk Workshop.
Grab some green
Did you know that simply looking at images of nature provides a host of positive health benefits, including decreased stress and improved mood? Also, high-oxygen-producing plants like peace lilies can help to increase productivity and comfort, while reducing stress and sickness in workplaces.
Try: Changing your desktop image and screen saver to a favourite image of nature, or caring for a small plant at your desk or with a group of colleagues.
Find the balance: “Me Space vs. We Space”
Collaboration can help boost connection and creativity, but the healthiest forums for collaboration are the ones where you can identify and use a range of spaces to suit your working needs in the moment. Some examples include collaborative workspaces, quiet office spaces, flex spaces, hot desks/drop-in stations and comfortable lounge spaces.
Try: Identifying and labeling the different areas in your workplace to help ensure everyone knows what type of work fits best in that space, and where they can go to get the level of interaction they require. You could even give the spaces fun names or colour zones.
Let the sun shine
Appropriate levels of natural light and sunshine can improve mood and alertness, minimize disruption to circadian rhythm, enhance productivity, support good sleep quality and provide appropriate visual acuity.
Try: Taking your next break close to a window, or booking a room with natural light for meetings or an hour of quiet work time. No windows? There are lots of great buildings at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan that provide a wealth of natural light, including the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), AMS Student Nest, Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, Forest Sciences Centre (bonus, it has plants!) and Okanagan Administration Building (with Sunshine Café!). It’s worth paying them a visit.
This month, as you look wistfully out your window at the beautiful scenery, I encourage you to find new ways to bring that splendor indoors and to see if it improves your health. I also invite you to stop by the Wellbeing Design Lab, Monday to Friday from 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. to explore the space.
For more information, including UBC research on the connection between natural environments, physical spaces and health, check out the following:
- Environmentally Smart Design: Designing for Social Wellbeing Across the City and in the Workplace (UBC CWL required)
- Health and Community Design: The Impact of the Built Environment on Physical Activity
- Healthy People with Nature in Mind (UBC CWL Required)
- Natural Environments, Health, and Well-Being
- Rationale to Address Well-being through Physical Spaces in Post-Secondary Settings
Grinde, B., & Patil, G. G. (2009). Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? Int. J. of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(9), 2332–2343.
Huet, V. Literature review of art therapy-based interventions for work-related stress. Int. J. Art Therapy. 20,66–76 (2015).
Huss, E. & Sarid, O. Visually transforming artwork and guided imagery as a way to reduce work related stress: A quantitative pilot study. Arts Psychother. 41, 409–412 (2014).
Photo credit: UBC Communications and Marketing
By Miranda Massie on June 7, 2017
The sun is out, there is the smell of freshly cut grass around us and it is finally starting to feel like summer. We seem to have skipped right over spring this year, with the cherry blossoms late to the party and a cold chill in the air lasting longer than usual.
Over the past few weeks, I have been amazed at the remarkable influence of weather patterns and the natural elements on human emotions. People seem physically lighter, and they are quicker to smile and laugh. There is a palpable increase in human energy and there is a celebratory feeling in the air. Not only does the city come alive once again, but so do the people within it.
The biggest bonus of this recent shift in weather? The health benefits that come along with it.
Six ways to use nature to boost your health
1. Take a brain break: Being surrounded by nature provides a much-needed break for the brain. The natural environment reduces overstimulation and allows your mind to rest, recover and re-focus.
Try stepping outside, taking five long deep breaths and then returning to work.
2. Get dirty: Exposure to soil bacteria can act as a natural antidepressant, activating brain cells that improve mood, reduce anxiety and facilitate learning.
Try planting a patio herb garden.
3. Move more, sit less: Better weather leads to more time spent outdoors, which leads to increased activity. By moving more, we boost heart, joint and bone health.
Try taking a 30-minute walk outside this week.
4. Learn who’s who in the zoo: The presence of animals in nature not only enhances social connections between people, but can have a therapeutic effect on mental health.
Try to find five different insects or animals the next time you are outside.
5. Use nature as a gym: Studies show that people who exercise outside have a lower risk of poor mental health.
Try taking your regular workout to a nearby park.
6. Ask an expert: Evidence shows that learning about our natural environment makes us more empathetic towards both humans and animals.
Visit the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
*A special note given the mention of empathy*:
I want to take a quick moment to acknowledge our many colleagues who are celebrating Ramadan this month. The long sunny days that many of us find so appealing can prove challenging, particularly for those fasting during this religious holiday. This month, I encourage you to offer words of support and encouragement. Read more about Ramadan and one author’s suggestions for how best to support friends and colleagues.
Have fun outside!
All my best,
This is Your Brain on Nature: National Geographic
Go Play Outside: Healthy UBC Newsletter, August 2015
Nurture Your Relationship with Nature: Healthy UBC Newsletter, June 2016
Vitamin Nature: Healthy UBC Newsletter, July 2015
Cheng, J. C. -H. Environment and Behavior: Connection to Nature: Children’s Affective Attitude Toward Nature. 44 Vol. Sage Publications, 01/2012. Web. 26 May 2017.
By Miranda Massie on August 5, 2015
As a child, I had no shortage of grown-ups in my life who encouraged me to “go play outside”. I’m sure that on occasion this response was prompted by a whiny “I’m bored” from me or my friends, constantly seeking new forms of entertainment, particularly in the summer months.
At the time, part of me assumed this was an adult’s way of avoiding being asked to watch my sister and I lip sync the chart toppers for the umpteenth time, or reenactments of our favourite Disney movies. While these were perhaps valid reasons to suggest a quick distraction or change of scenery, it turns out that there is evidence supporting some very real health benefits that come from spending time outside.
Biophilia translates literally to “love of life or living systems”. It has become a term in evolutionary psychology that is used to describe an innate human attraction to all which is vital and living. This theory has been applied more recently when examining the health and wellbeing benefits of nature and our natural environment.
Five health benefits of playing outside:
- Reduced stress levels (*bonus: improves mental health as well as cardiovascular health)
- Elevated mood and a more positive attitude
- Improved attention and mental capacity
- Increased longevity
- Increased levels of self-reported ‘good health’
There are a number of accompanying theories as to what characteristics within nature are specifically responsible for the resulting health benefits. Some of these include:
- Nature provides the opportunity for increased physical activity, which can support better heart, bone and joint health.
- Activities performed outdoors often encourage or involve socializing, which builds social support networks.
- The physical characteristics of elements found in nature (air quality, pleasant smells, colour and light) are both visually appealing and physically beneficial, improving the overall experience of any activity performed outdoors vs indoors.
Five ways to reap the benefits of nature (without sport or formalized activity).
- Get in the garden. Offer to garden for a neighbor or friend if you do not have the space.
- Explore BC’s trails and natural wilderness. Bonus is, it is free!
- Eat lunch outside. I recommend a bench along Main Mall.
- Bring your book to the nearest neighbourhood park.
- Invite nature in by placing plants or flowers around your home and office.
Nothing like finding scientific evidence to back up the fact that your parents were right all along, is there?
This month, I invite you to try and interact with your natural environment is some way every day. It might be as simple as stopping to smell a fragrant plant or flower on your way into the office. Perhaps you walk barefoot through the grass in a park or your backyard. Maybe invite some colleagues out to play bocce at lunch.
However you choose to experience nature this summer, take advantage of the beautiful weather and give your wellbeing a little boost at the same time.
All my best,
Clowney, D. (2013). Biophilia as an environmental virtue. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 26(5), 999-1014.
Grinde, B., & Patil, G. G. (2009). Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and Well-Being? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 6(9), 2332–2343.
Gullone, E. (2000). The biophilia hypothesis and life in the 21st century: Increasing mental health or increasing pathology? Journal of Happiness Studies, 1(3), 293-322.
Huelat, B. (2008). The Wisdom of Biophilia-Nature in Healing Environments. Journal of Green Building, 3(3), 23-35.