FITNESS
October 16, 2010

Bringing Recess to the Workplace

Two quick exercise programs aim to get office workers moving, no matter what their fitness level.

For most people, recess is a thing of the past, the enjoyable part of grade school. Books were put down and suddenly, everyone could run around and have a good time. Many organizations are now trying to make recess part of the typical workday. Recess is exercise that's also fun. And by all accounts, the idea is extremely popular with workers.

Businesses in Japan embraced the idea of workplace exercise years ago. But jumping jacks and calisthenics fit better into Japanese culture than U.S. culture. Gym class is not recess.

Many organizations are now trying to make recess part of the typical workday. Recess is exercise that's also fun. And by all accounts, the idea is extremely popular with workers.

So Antronette Yancey, a doctor and public health professor at UCLA, developed a program called Instant Recess, a 10-minute program more in line with American tastes.

Yancey describes Instant Recess as an activity that can be done by anybody at any time in any attire. Different moves taken from dance and sport are performed to music. The moves are designed so that overweight or sedentary people can perform them fairly easily. One move, called the tipoff, is a squat and jump move much like that of basketball players during a jump ball. Another resembles the move symbolized in the Heisman trophy.

Yancey has found that many people starting out on the program are skeptical about it and often show this by exaggerated eye-rolling. But even these people quickly get caught up in the routines and are soon enjoying them.

Yancey developed the routines to overcome the fact that people seem unable to commit to an exercise routine even as short as half an hour. But ten minutes seems to work well. And she says that most people get a lift in mood and energy from the routine.

Alejandro Espinoza developed another program while working towards his MPH degree at Cal State Fullerton: a daily 15-minute aerobics class and a 20-minute walk every other day for the members of the nonprofit group Latino Health Access. Espinoza says that the group's 55 workers feel more energetic and focused afterwards, and don't have the late day letdown common to many workers.

Espinoza's program began as a health project for his community's children, many of whom did not have a safe place to play. He began driving them twice weekly to an open space where they could run around and play without worries, in a bus owned by Latino Health Access. This eventually led to Espinoza designing a recess program for the members of Latino Health Access.

These two programs are only examples of the many possible types of recess break. Just getting workers out of their chair for a few minutes is healthy; adding some exercise to the mix is even healthier.

Current exercise guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. But it needn't be done all at once. Ten minutes a day of exercise in the workplace, five days a week is 50 minutes of the suggested 150.

Some people's jobs require them to sit for 90% of the workday. Many studies have shown that so much sitting has an extreme negative impact on health. Even short breaks are helpful to the circulation. Recess is one way to break up all this constant sitting.

Employer sponsored exercise has been heartily endorsed by the U.S. National Activity Plan, The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The American Heart Association, The YMCA and AARP. Recess at work is one way to get started.

Will nap time be next?

Antronette K. Yancey, MD, MPH is currently a professor in the Department of Health Services, UCLA School of Public Health, and is Co-Director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity.

Alejandro Espinoza, MPH, BS kinesiology is chronic disease coordinator for Latino Health Access, a nonprofit group based in Santa Ana, Ca.

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