Why You Should Take a Relaxing Lunch Break

I know the importance of breaks in a workday. The science clearly shows that taking a cognitive timeout helps us to work better and feel better, and personal experience confirms that.

But, still…

Like many Americans, I sometimes find myself working right through lunch. I get lost in my work, or I think, Hey, if I just finish this project, it will be out of my hair and then I can relax.

But a newly published study suggests this is the wrong approach. It turns out that taking a deliberate break from work with a short walk in the park or a bit of mindful relaxation can have powerful effects on our end-of-day concentration, stress, and fatigue.

In this study, participants in cognitively demanding fields—such as public administration, education, engineering, and finance—were randomly assigned to either take a slow, 15-minute stroll in a park (without much physical exertion) or do 15 minutes of mindful relaxation exercises during their lunch breaks every workday for two weeks. The relaxation exercises consisted of progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and paying attention to thoughts and sensations in a non-judgmental way. Both groups were instructed beforehand on how and where to take their walk or mindfully relax.

Before, during, and after the two-week experiment, participants were “pinged” twice a week near the end of their workday and asked to report on how well they were able to concentrate at that moment, and on their stress and fatigue. In addition, they filled out a short questionnaire every night, asking how much they enjoyed their lunch break, and if they were able to detach from work during it or not.

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