+ Instant Recess: A New Approach to Exercise

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In Jane Brody’s “Personal Health” column in the NY
Times, she quotes Dr Toni Yancey,

Being sedentary is the norm in America.  Even activities that we still do regularly demand less exertion.  And the less people have to do, the more quickly they get tired when they exert themselves just a little bit, which of course discourages them from exercising.

Dr Yancey is a professor of health services at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She has published a book titled “Instant Recess,” in which she demonstrates the value of two-a-day 10-minute breaks of enjoyable communal exercise.

She suggests they can be instituted anywhere: schools, day-care centers, workplaces, conferences, places of worship, senior centers —  anywhere people gather.

The secret to motivating more Americans to make regular physical exercise part of their lives is to incorporate it into the everyday routine.

We might, for example, gather a group to take a brisk walk around the grounds twice a day.  Getting people to exercise in groups is easier: “Everybody’s doing it!”

 Yancey calls instant recess “a point of entry, a calling card for national physical activity.”  She sees it as a way to stimulate health promoting activity, especially among people whose lives and value systems have never included it.

These short bouts of activity can spill over to the  rest of a person’s life.  Once people feel more fit and better about themselves, they are more likely to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity during their leisure time.

She thinks of the recess model as

the aerobics of the 21st century — an updated exercise prescription for an increasingly over-scheduled, ethnically diverse, multicultural, media-and-information-technology-driven global modern society.

 When we make instant recess the default option, she says, no one has to decide to exercise, or carve out special time to do it; and some of the rewards are immediate: camaraderie, social interaction with friends and co-workers, stress-relief, muscle relaxation, increased energy, improved mood and better concentration.


At sites around the country, students, employees and older people are taking dancelike musical exercise breaks  that have actually been shown to enhance achievement, productivity, self-esteem and well-being.

Companies including LL Bean and Replacements Ltd are using the kind of breaks Yancey promotes.  They have found that output is increased and injuries and workers compensation claims have decreased.

LL Bean employees who take part in three five-minute stretch breaks each workday have given back “a 100 percent return on its investment,” says Yancey.  Within three years, work related injuries dropped from 14 a year to essentially none.

At Replacements Ltd, 10-minute exercise breaks resulted in less time lost from work because of problems like carpal tunnel or low back pain.

Yancey is now involved in a study of recess breaks at 70 work sites in LA County.


Dr Yancey stresses that 10-minute exercise breaks during the school day could do more to forward the goals of No Child Left Behind than double that amount of time learning math and English. 

She cites a federally funded study by the University of Kansas which found that 10-minute activity breaks, usually done to music, led to improved scores in math, spelling and composition among the participants. 

These students also increased their activity levels outside school, on weekdays and weekends, and they gained less weight than those who did not participate in the breaks.

Since schools around the country are reducing PE and recess time in order to do more test preparation, Yancey feels this study  is especially telling.

Other studies have shown that athlete-led exercise breaks in schools, even via DVDs or CDs, can motivate sedentary kids to get moving and improve fitness levels.

source: Jane Brody’s article on 11/23/2010.  See “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time,” by Toni Yancey, MD, MPH.  University of California Press, paperback $22.95.  ISBN 9780520263765

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