Last week I wrote about the importance of daily physical activity for children. The benefits of physical activity in children is similar to that in adults. Unfortunately, we miss opportunities for children to be active. This lack of regular activity is a major contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic and a host of other health conditions. Even something as simple as a chance to run and play at recess can have a big impact on children’s bodies and minds.
Research shows that including activity in the school day improves attention and learning. Some schools incorporate short activity breaks or integrate movement in the classroom through active learning exercises and letting kids use standing desks or stability balls as chairs. This is either in addition to or in place of organized recess times or physical education.
Far from being a distraction, many teachers report that kids learn better when they have a chance to move. This is reflected in higher test scores when learning and studying includes activity. Best of all, this is in addition to the long list of health benefits of daily activity.
The same is true for adults, too. Prolonged sitting has been linked to negative health effects that are similar to those of not exercising. Even among people who do exercise, those who spend more time sitting tend to have more health problems than those who are more active during the day.
Taking short breaks at work improves attention and productivity. In fact, many time management and productivity techniques include periods of focused work separated by breaks. Since most work is done sitting at a desk or in front of a computer, these breaks can be used to get up and move. Some companies have formal programs that include activity breaks, standing desks, treadmill desks, and walking meetings to get their employees moving.
Most employers who embrace and encourage an active workplace find that their employees are happier at work, more productive, have lower rates of absenteeism, and lower medical costs. In most cases, the savings outweigh the real or perceived costs of implementing active workplace initiatives.
There is a wonderful initiative called Instant Recess that encourages short activity breaks throughout the day. Just as children need a chance to move around, adults benefit from these short bouts of activity. Since the biggest barrier to meeting even the most modest physical activity recommendation – 30 minutes per day – is time, these activity breaks can add up to serious health benefits.
While the focus is often on activity in the workplace, these same concept applies at home, too. Many people spend several hours each evening engaged in “screen time,” either watching TV or sitting in front of a computer. Short “recess” breaks can limit sitting time and help meet physical activity goals. Of course, this isn’t a replacement for dedicated time for exercise, but every step counts!
You can learn more about “recess” for adults and the Instant Recess initiative at www.instantrecess.com.
Brian Parr, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.