Is Recess Just for Kids?

Can Recess Help Us Now?

Declining physical activity levels are a big concern for our population. But with all the focus on increasing physical activity, we are forgetting one other very important health concern – overall sedentary behavior. More and more studies have come out in recent years on the health effects of large amounts of daily sedentary time. In 2012, data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study were used to determine the effect between overall sitting time and all-cause mortality. Researchers found that the greater amount of time a person spent sitting each day, the greater their risk of death from all causes. This effect remained even after adjusting for the amount of moderate-vigorous physical activity the person engaged in1.

These results were confirmed in multiple other studies including one from the Women’s Health Initiative2 and a 2015 Meta-analysis of articles examining the risks of sedentary behavior on overall health3. Both studies found that high levels of sedentary behavior were associated with poor health outcomes, regardless of physical activity levels!

Unfortunately, many of us have jobs and responsibilities that require us to sit for long periods of time throughout the day. Some of this comes from sitting in the office, some of it comes from commuting to work, and some comes from sitting down when we get home because we’re so tired after our long work day.

Previous articles I have written have discussed ways to add exercise to your day. These included exercising during your lunch break or before or after work. These are great ways to get active, and should not be discontinued, but one woman had a unique idea to get us up and moving throughout the day to change the sedentary environment of the workplace for everyone.

Dr. Toni Yancey began an initiative in the 1990s called Instant Recess. This initiative gets people in all kinds of settings – offices, schools, factories, etc. – up and moving for 10 minutes at a time throughout the day. At the Instant Recess website4, the listed benefits of breaking up sedentary behavior throughout the day include decreases in appetite, weight, waistline, blood pressure, fatigue, stress, and smoking and increases in self-esteem, alertness, speed and accuracy of data-entry, fruit and vegetable intake, water consumption, physical activity outside the workplace, and supportive working environment. Just think – if everyone got up and moved together for 10 minutes, 3 times a day, everyone would be meeting the minimum requirements for physical activity (30 min/day, 5 days/wk) regardless of their other exercise habits! Not only does this lead to the benefits that come from increased physical activity, but it also leads to decreases in the harmful effects of prolonged sedentary behavior.

So can you start an Instant Recess at your workplace? Yes you can! Instant Recess has many videos and materials you can buy to use in your workplace, but there are also other free options for you to consider. YouTube is a great place to find short 10 minute Instant Recess videos, or maybe there are some people in your office that love to dance and can teach everyone how to salsa or cha-cha. You can also incorporate stretching routines as your 10 minute breaks. The best thing you can do though is get everyone up and moving together. A study at a company in Greensboro, North Carolina found that engaging all employees in scheduled stretching breaks to music compared to just providing instruction sheets for stretching routines to their employees resulted in much higher participation rates and much greater health impacts5.

Start small and work on getting company leaders involved. If you hold weekly meetings, start incorporating “move breaks” in the middle of the meeting to keep employees focused. Hold stretching breaks with everyone in your office mid-morning and mid-afternoon when everyone normally starts to get tired. Bring some good low-key workout music and play it while everyone gets up and starts stretching or marching in place. You can start with the “move break” ideas below and then begin to make up your own. Whether you’re able to incorporate these breaks hourly or only once or twice a day, breaking up sedentary time will help everyone, including your company!

Move Break #1

  • March in place 1 minute – continue to march in place throughout the 10 minute break
  • Stretch your arms up in the air and lean to one side then the other, 15 sec each side
  • Reach one arm across your body and hold 15 sec then repeat with the other side
  • Start to roll your shoulders, first forward 1 minute then backward 1 minute – add in bigger arm
  • movements if wanted
  • Perform modified jumping jacks (arms come up over your head as you step first one leg out to the side and back and then the other) 2 minutes
  • Punch forward, alternating arms 1 minute
  • Punch right arm across to the left side 30 sec
  • Punch left arm across to the right side 30 sec
  • Lift your knees high for high marching 1 minute
  • March in place normally 1 minute

Move Break #2 – Sports Break

  • March in place 1 minute
  • “Shoot a basketball” with your right hand, bending your knees slightly each time 30 sec
  • Repeat with your left hand 30 sec
  • Step forward and “hit a baseball” on your dominant side, step back and repeat 30 sec
  • Repeat with your non-dominant side 30 sec
  • Raise up on your toes as you “set a volleyball” 30 sec
  • Now drop down in mini frog squats as you “bump the volleyball” 30 sec
  • March in place 1 minute (move your arms more vigorously)
  • Perform wide stance “football runs” in place 30 sec
  • Throw the football, alternating hands 30 sec
  • Perform a “forehand tennis swing” 30 sec
  • Now a “backhand tennis swing” 30 sec
  • “Dribble a soccer ball” 30 sec
  • “Throw the soccer ball back in” with both hands overhead 30 sec
  • Perform your best “golf swing” with your dominant side 30 sec
  • Repeat with your non-dominant side 30 sec
  • Cool down with marching in place 1 minute

Let us know if we can help you come up with more “move breaks” or if we can help get recess started in your office!


  1. Matthews, C. E., George, S. M., Moore, S. C., Bowles, H. R., Blair, A., Park, Y., ... & Schatzkin, A. (2012). Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition, ajcn-019620.
  2. Chomistek, A. K., Manson, J. E., Stefanick, M. L., Lu, B., Sands-Lincoln, M., Going, S. B., ... & Johnson, K. C. (2013). Relationship of sedentary behavior and physical activity to incident cardiovascular disease: results from the Women's Health Initiative. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 61(23), 2346-2354.
  3. Biswas, A., Oh, P. I., Faulkner, G. E., Bajaj, R. R., Silver, M. A., Mitchell, M. S., & Alter, D. A. (2015). Sedentary time and its association with risk for disease incidence, mortality, and hospitalization in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine, 162(2), 123-132.