Spending time outside not only makes us feel healthier, it also impacts our long-term wellbeing. Studies have shown that people with high exposure to green spaces yield significant physical and mental health benefits. Yet, most of us do not prioritize outdoor activity in our daily lives. According to the EPA, the average American spends 93% of their time indoors, leaving very little time for outdoor activity each day. To promote human wellbeing, we need to alter our daily routine to accommodate outdoor activity. In her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Houston, TX, Cynthia Dehlavi, Senior Research and Design Associate at OJB Landscape Architecture, shared how landscape architects can use design to influence human habits and increase people’s daily exposure to green space.
During her presentation, Dehlavi walked participants through a meditative experience to demonstrate the effects that our surroundings can have on our bodies. Research has shown that an indoor, sedentary lifestyle impacts your mood, causes fatigue, disrupts your sleep cycle, and even increases your chance of catching an infection. This has a tremendous effect on our bodies including eye strain from staring at a screen, back pain from a hunched seating posture, and lung disease from poor air quality. Conversely, spending time outdoors provides measurable health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving concentration, and strengthening your immunity. Dehlavi recognized that landscapes can fulfill many of our bodies’ needs. Motivated by a desire to help others receive the restorative health benefits nature provides, Dehlavi began to consider how she as a landscape architect can use design to influence individuals to make positive changes to their daily routine and pursue a healthier lifestyle. Here are a few ways Dahlavi and her team at OJB are using design to shift human behavior and promote wellbeing:
Bike or Walk to Work
More than 85% of workers drive to the office every day. For many of us, this daily commute feels like a chore, but it could be an untapped opportunity to fit outdoor time into your day. Changing your mode of transportation from vehicle to foot or bicycle can reap huge health benefits. Not only is your physical health improved, studies have also shown evidence that productivity and positivity are increased when people change their behavior to active commuting. To promote an active commute, landscape architects are working with cities and towns to implement more pedestrian and cyclist friendly practices, such as dedicated paths or protected bike lanes and bicycle rentals.
Since the average person spends 12+ hours a day sitting – i.e. at their desk, behind the wheel, or in front of the TV screen – taking breaks is essential. However, one study has shown that only one in three workers actually step away from their desk to take lunch. While skipping your lunch break may seem beneficial to completing a deadline, it actually reduces your productivity and deteriorates your mental state. Without taking adequate breaks, overall work performance begins to suffer. While finding time for a break can be challenging, it has shown to increase productivity, improve mental well-being, boost creativity, and encourage healthy habits such as a healthy lunch, exercise, or meditation. To encourage movement throughout the day, landscape architects are teaming with office building developers to provide both active and passive outdoor amenity spaces including walking trails, picnic benches, and gardens.
Take It Outside
While the benefits of being outside are well-established, 65% of employees say that their work is the reason that they don’t get outside as much as they would like. Studies have shown that employees with a view of nature perceive lower levels of job stress and higher levels of job satisfaction. To capitalize on these benefits, employers are starting to integrate the outdoors into the workday. Companies are re-imagining their office space to bring the outdoors in, opting for natural light, fresh air, and indoor plants or natural building materials. In addition, with remote work technologies, it’s easier than ever to take your work outside or hold outdoor meetings. Landscape architects are working with clients to provide outdoor workstations.
While Dehlavi is motivated by the desire to improve wellbeing, she also acknowledges that encouraging an increase in people’s daily outdoor activity will also benefit the profession of landscape architecture. She states: “If we change the culture from only being outside 7% of the day to 20% or more, then there is more demand for high-quality landscapes.” By altering people’s daily routine, we can increase the need and demand for better outdoor living, working, and relaxing spaces. Dehlavi encourages landscape architects to be better advocates of human wellbeing, designing spaces that allow for a shift in human behavior and increase daily exposure to green space.