Better Air Quality for Better Brain Power? Results of a New Scientific Study
It’s been estimated that some days we spend as much as 90% of our time indoors.
This doesn’t necessarily mean many contented hours spent relaxing in the movie theatre, health spa or shopping mall though!
No, unfortunately the chances are that for most of us this will involve a significant proportion of time spent at work.
Do you ever find yourself sitting at your desk some days finding it hard to focus or concentrate? Or just get the feeling you’re not quite functioning to the best of your abilities but you can’t put your finger on why…
Well, it could all be down to the air quality of your working environment.
In a ground-breaking new study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, a team of researchers from Harvard, Syracuse University and SUNY Upstate examined whether there was any link between air quality and cognitive performance.
Over 6 days twenty-four professionals carried out their normal job functions in a lab setting which simulated conditions found in conventional buildings and in green buildings, as well as in green buildings with enhanced ventilation.
The study was concerned firstly with the effects of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – chemicals found in paints, furniture and flooring amongst other things – on mental performance.
The results were pretty surprising.
Using a series of cognitive performance tests, it was demonstrated that performance scores doubled amongst people when they spent time in the optimised green building environment, compared to their time spent in the traditional building environment.
It’s been known for some time that VOCs can have a detrimental impact on our bodies physically – for example, they can cause eye irritations and upper respiratory irritations. But as a result of this study there’s now also evidence to suggest they can have an impact on our reasoning, logic and problem-solving skills too.
Secondly, the study also looked at the effects of carbon dioxide in the workplace, again with some pretty compelling results.
When participants moved from an environment with low levels of carbon dioxide to one with higher levels, cognitive performance was found to diminish by up to 50%.
So What’s The Bottom Line?
The results of the study make for fascinating reading, both for employees and employers alike, and may signal the start of a revolution in how office buildings are designed and equipped.
But if you fall into the category of employer you may well be wondering what the cost of any such improvements and enhancements may be. Sure, you want to be a responsible employer with the best interests of your workforce in mind, but can you actually afford it?
Well, the good news is that it appears that the financial benefits brought about by an increase in productivity far outweigh the costs associated with making any necessary changes.
The study calculated that the cost for increasing outer air ventilation to the levels where there was found to be a rise in cognitive performance was approximately $30 per person per year.
But, the resulting benefit to productivity was estimated at $6000 per person per year – clearly a ‘no-brainer’ there when it comes to the math!
One of the report’s authors appreciates there is still much research to be done in this area as to exactly how chemicals can impair cognitive performance. But for now we do know that there is a link between air quality and performance, and could shed some light on why some days we feel less sharp and focused than others!
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