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Adding Recess to the Workday Gains Backers

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Think recess, and you'll probably smile. What wasn't to like about a break in the school day set aside for running and playing, for friends and fun?

Now fast-forward to your adult life. What if your workplace started offering recess on the job?

Some medical experts think it's not only a good idea but possibly one of the most solid tactics dreamed up for getting an increasingly out-of-shape America up and moving.

Adult recess would involve a 10-minute break in the workday, when employees would be led through a series of fun routines involving dance and sports-like moves.

The idea may be catching on. Employer-sponsored exercise is a big part of the U.S. National Physical Activity Plan, a cooperative effort by a number of health and fitness organizations to promote physical activity in public settings such as businesses, schools and churches. Partners include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association, the YMCA and the AARP.

"When we can build physical activity into an easy, achievable part of our day, it's a lot less daunting for people," said Allison Kleinfelter, a consultant with the National Physical Activity Plan. The program, she said, "is looking at changing places where we live and work to support physical activity."

The benefit of adult recess hinges on physical activity guidelines put out by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which recommend that all adults receive at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, Kleinfelter said.

But a person doesn't need to stack up those minutes during just a few sessions, according to the guidelines, because moderate or vigorous effort will benefit overall health even if each session is as short as 10 minutes.

One work site where adult recess has been implemented is Latino Health Access, a nonprofit group in Santa Ana, Calif. Many of the 55 workers there participate in a 20-minute walk every other day and daily 15-minute aerobics classes, said Alejandro Espinoza, the group's chronic disease program coordinator.

The benefits have been terrific, he said. Workers feel more energetic and focused and are less likely to feel lethargic in the afternoon.

"They look forward to it," he said. "I'm one of the exercise team leaders. They come and tell me, 'Alex, it's time to do our exercise.' "

Businesses in Japan have been doing this sort of thing for years, but Kleinfelter said it's been tough to sell Americans on the idea of doing jumping jacks and other calisthenics.

Enter a program called "Instant Recess," developed by Dr. Antronette K. Yancey, a professor in the department of health services at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health and co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity.

"Instant Recess sounds just like we want it to be -- something that can be done by anybody at any time in any attire," Yancey said.

The 10-minute Instant Recess programs feature different sets of moves taken from dance and sports and performed to music.

"They are crafted to be moves that anyone can do," Yancey said. "We have a set of specifications that try to keep this something that a person who is sedentary or overweight can do fairly easily."

A lot of the moves are similar to sports, she said. One, called the "Heisman move," has participants replicate the move featured on the Heisman trophy, awarded each year to the top collegiate football player. Another, called the "tipoff," is a squat-and-jump move much like what basketball players do during the opening tipoff of a game.

"I found that eye-rolling occurs mostly at the beginning," Yancey said. "People aren't sure what to expect, and it seems a little hokey. What happens is people, after the first few minutes, start smiling, start laughing, start engaging with each other, egging each other on."

Yancey said she developed Instant Recess based on research that found that it's very difficult for people to commit to an exercise routine for any length of time. They find it daunting to commit as much as a half-hour to exercise, and the hassle of going to a gym or other place to work out adds one more obstacle to regular exercise.

And though 10 minutes may not seem like much, Kleinfelter and Yancey said that that amount of vigorous exercise can contribute greatly to your health.

"In terms of immediate benefit, most people experience improvement in mood and energy," Yancey said, noting that people feel relaxed and sharper after an Instant Recess session. But as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day also can help prevent weight gain and head off diabetes, and Yancey said her research has found that productivity increased and workplace injuries decreased at businesses where Instant Recess has been implemented.

Even people who are physically active can get something out of a little recess at work, Kleinfelter said.

"A lot of research is showing that people who exercise often sit for as much as 90 percent of their day," she said. "That can be just as negative because you're sitting for extended periods of time. This gives you a chance to get up and move."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on the benefits of exercise.

SOURCES: Allison Kleinfelter, consultant, National Physical Activity Plan, Washington, D.C.; Antronette K. Yancey, M.D., M.P.H., professor, department of health services, School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles, and co-director, UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity, Los Angeles; Alejandro Espinoza, chronic disease program coordinator, Latino Health Access, Santa Ana, Calif.

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