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Spending time in nature positively affects work-related stress    Feb 01, 2019

Spending time in nature positively affects work-related stress
Feb 01, 2019


Prof. dr. Michelle PLUSQUIN



Research at UHasselt, in collaboration with the province of Limburg, shows that doing activities in nature reduces work-related stress. The results clearly indicate that the combination of stress management sessions and activities in nature have a positive effect on our well-being, the reduction of stress and improvement of certain aspects of our cognitive performance.


Stress related conditions are a great burden to society, not only to our healthcare system but also to employers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2020 psychological problems will be the main cause of reduced productivity in the workplace. “Numbers that are confirmed by a 2017 study from Securex”, dr. Silvie Daniels (Centre of Environmental Sciences) explains. “In this study they found that approximately 17 % of 347 000 employees in Flanders suffers from acute mental fatigue and burnout. More recent studies have shown that these numbers are still increasing.”

“In part 1 of the study, we investigated and analyzed the effect of participating in nature-based activities during working hours on employees with regards to 1) mental, physical and emotional wellbeing, 2) cognitive performance (memory, attention span, processing speed, reaction speed), and 3) the reduction of work-related stress. Part 2 of the study, which will take place in June 2019, will determine the potential cost saving aspects of these activities for companies, governments and employers.”


“Before the intervention period started, the 45 participants in the study were subjected to a couple of general tests in order for us to collect some person-specific parameters. This was repeated two times during the study and one time after”, dr. Diana Clemente Batalha Pardal (Centre of Environmental Sciences) elaborates. “The tests included a general questionnaire (Burnout Assessment tool), computer tests, providing saliva and blood samples, and wearing a smartphone/watch/wristband.”

“The study lasted for 3 weeks during which groups of employees from the intervention group, 20 in a control group and 25 in the intervention group, performed an activity in nature two times a week for a period of 90 minutes. This activity was done in smaller sub-groups with a maximum of 8 participants and was always preceded by a stress management session that lasted 30 minutes.”, prof. dr. Michelle Plusquin (Centre of Environmental Sciences) tells us.


The results of the study are clear. The wellbeing of the employees from the intervention group improved significantly as compared to that of the control group. After just 3 weeks, the burnout score lowered with 15,25 %. In addition to this, the cognitive performance also improved. Processing speeds increased with 11,46 % and reaction speeds with 10,55 %. Short-term memory and attention span tests also demonstrated a positive trend for the intervention group. However, further research is required to ensure that this improvement is a consequence of the intervention.

The results of the continuous stress measurement shows a significant lowering of the average stress level with 19,05 % after week 3. The levels of the stress hormone cortisol, obtained through the saliva samples, dropped with 11,85 %. Something that wasn’t observed for the control group. Also in this case, further tests need to confirm this finding.


“The combination of the qualitative self-observed wellbeing of the employees and the objective measurement clearly indicates the potential of nature-based activities combined with stress management sessions. The observed results are of course the consequence of a symbiosis between physical exercise, nature and stress management and are not solely caused by the nature aspect”, our UHasselt researchers explain.

“The results are very promising and confirm our hypothesis that spending time in nature during working hours can be beneficial. Future research on larger groups will be of great importance to confirm and prove these results over a longer period of time. We still want to investigate a lot of things, such as whether these positive effects remain present, if the results can be improved even further when we extend the period of intervention, and what the actual contribution of doing it in a nature-based environment is, to name just a few. We are already looking forward to exiting research journey that still lies ahead us.”