As science has proved again and again, humans aren't designed to work for extended periods of time, so taking breaks at work is important for both personal well-being and employee productivity. In other words, staff who don't take breaks won't work as well or be as happy as those who do, and your business will suffer for it. But there is a big difference between stopping work for a short period of time, and taking a productive break that you return to work feeling energised from.

In order to maximise your employees' break times, it's worth knowing that some activities are better than others. Of course, you can't control what another person does during their break but you can give them some ideas and support to help them make the most of their time away from work.

Here are our suggestions for productive breaks.

Get outside

If your employees don't work outside, there's a lot to be said for encouraging them to get out in the fresh air during their lunch or coffee breaks. And not just to smoke a cigarette or make a phone call. We know that natural light is better for us than artificial light bulbs, and in most scenarios our lungs prefer the outdoor air to air-conditioned or recycled indoor air. Furthermore, heading outside and being surrounded by greenery or nature is proven to be good for our immune systems and can also reduce stress. If going for a walk or sitting in a local park isn't possible in your workplace, be sure to bring some green inside with an indestructable workplace-friendly plant or two.

Do a little exercise

It will be no surprise that doing exercise during breaks can help your staff feel more energetic and focused afterwards. Of course, that may be the last thing that people want to do if their work is physically demanding, so it's good to remember that you don't need to hit the gym to speed up your heartbeat and get some endorphins going. Sometimes a twenty minute walk or a short but intense ten minute workout can be effective enough. It's well worth remembering that these days companies that have on-site fitness facilities, or offer discounts to local gyms, are proving more and more popular with potential employees.

Limit screen time

Research suggests we have never had such short attention spans because of how much digital distraction we have to contend with. As much as we probably want to check what everyone is doing on Facebook during our work breaks, this doesn't actually make us feel good. It can be hard to communicate this to your staff, but try to give them lots of ideas for break time activities that don't involve their phones. Maybe set up a library in your workplace where people can swap books and magazines, or give all your staff access to a secure place they can leave their phones when they go for a walk.

Laugh!

Laughter is a truly undervalued activity for boosting our spirits and making us feel better about ourselves. It can also improve our immune systems, calming us down and its relaxing effects can last as long as 45 minutes. So why not encourage your employees to read a funny book, or even watch some comedy on TV. Alternatively, if you read or see something funny in a magazine or online, share it with your employees. Even if they don't find it funny they will appreciate being thought of.

Meditate, stretch and yawn

People can't stop telling us how good meditation is for our well-being, but it's not for everyone and it can feel quite difficult when you first start. You can still reap some of the same relaxing benefits, however, by doing any activity in a slow and mindful way. Of course, that can also be a challenge for some people, especially if their job is very busy or fast-paced. You can also suggest that your staff just try stretching and yawning. Research has shown that stretching can help reduce stress, and yawning is in fact our body's way of trying to cool down the brain, something it does by forcing you to slow your breath and increase blood flow. A few yawns on demand may make you feel sleepy, but they are also calming down your mind and body.

Eat well and drink plenty of water

It goes without saying that eating healthy foods and keeping hydrated will also help keep a person's energy and concentration levels at a higher level than if they only drink caffeinated drinks or eat foods high in sugar. You can help your employees eat well by having fresh fruit available for snacks, offering plenty of cold water or a variety of non-caffeinated hot drinks for them to choose from, and perhaps giving them ideas for what to eat. This is a great list of snack foods that are good for both the brain and body, and most of them taste good too.