UHA Worksite Wellness

Bringing Back “Recess” For Health And Productivity Benefits

Written by Valerie Au on February 11, 2015. Posted in Activity & Exercise, Post

What was your favorite subject in elementary school? If you’re like many people, your honest answer might be ‘recess.’ Do you remember the feeling of release when you got out of the classroom and onto the playground? Who says recess only has to be for kids! There are health and productivity benefits to bringing back recess for adults in the workplace.

Prolonged Sitting Is Unproductive

We know today that sitting is the new smoking: that sitting at a desk for eight or nine hours straight (and then in front of the television at night) contributes to a variety of significant health problems. We also know, however, that only one in three Americans even takes a lunch break regularly. That’s a lot of sitting.

Sitting is also not the best way to be at our most productive. Studies show that the kind of “directed attention” we need in order to focus on our work is a limited resource. After a prolonged period of sitting in front of the computer or concentrating on a task, we become fatigued and our ability to perform actually drops.

The Value of Taking a Break

Ideally, research says we need to take a six-minute break where we get up and stretch or move around for every eighty minutes of work, but even a two-minute break can increase our productivity by 11%. A 30-second microbreak can increase our mental sharpness by 13%.

If you can get outdoors, the value of the break is even greater. Spending time in natural settings, researchers say, activates involuntary attention, giving the brain’s directed attention time to rest.

One US company became convinced that quick exercise breaks—two minutes every hour on the hour—would boost productivity, improve health and fuel creativity. "We’ve seen a big difference not just in terms of the way we look but the way we feel," says the employee who started the program.

The Value of Play

Play is another vital component of recess. Research shows that the experience of free play actually develops the parts of the brain that regulate emotions and help children solve problems. Countries where schools have more recess tend to have higher academic performers than other countries.

The same benefits apply to adults. Play helps adults have a sense of well-being and connectedness, as well as sharpening our mental abilities that make us more productive. In fact, play might even be essential for creative work.

One company decided to make their work breaks more fun than traditional unhealthy coffee or smoking breaks: recognizing the impact that play has on people’s happiness, health and quality of life, their employees get outside and kick a ball around or use a hula hoop.

Building recess breaks into your work day doesn’t have to take a lot of time—school recess breaks were never longer than 15 minutes but you could pack a lot of activity in—and its benefits to your health and work can be incredible.

Valerie Au

Worksite Wellness Program Manager; Vice Chair, Hawaii Health at Work Alliance (HH@WA) Board of Directors

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