When work gets busy, most of us don’t make it a priority to spend some time outside. You may think to yourself, why would I leave the office when I have pressing deadlines to worry about? But practicing the Microstep of stepping away from your desk — and from the stress of your workday — can actually do wonders for your mood and ability to follow through on your to-do list. Take a look at the benefits of spending just 5, 10, and 20 minutes outside. 

In five minutes, you can boost your mood and self-esteem

Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes of fresh air to feel better. Researchers from the University of Essex found that spending as little as five minutes doing “green exercise,” or activity in nature, was enough to boost study participants’ mood and self-esteem. Most striking is that this five minute dose proved to be the most effective; study participants who spent 10-60 minutes, or half of the day outside experienced smaller positive changes in their mood and self-esteem compared to those who only went outside for five minutes. That means you can meaningfully benefit by just taking a lap around your office building, or a stroll down the block for a few minutes. 

In 10 minutes, you’ll get a much-needed dose of vitamin D 

According to Harvard Medical School, most Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D, which is crucial for fighting disease and maintaining a strong immune system. Vitamin D deficiencies are a real threat for those of us with desk jobs, considering we probably don’t make it a priority to get some sunlight during our jam-packed workdays. The good news, though, is that you only need to get outside for 10 minutes (on a sunny day, of course) to boost your vitamin D levels. 

In 20 minutes, you’ll feel less stressed 

Whether you schedule a walking meeting with a co-worker or plan to eat lunch outdoors, research has shown that taking just 20 minutes out of your day to sit or stroll in nature can significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us,” MaryCarol Hunter, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Michigan and a lead author of the research, tells Thrive. “Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature.”

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  • Jessica Hicks

    Managing Editor at Thrive

    Jessica Hicks is a managing editor at Thrive. She graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism, sociology, and anthropology, and is passionate about using storytelling to ignite positive change in the lives of others.