Published: February 26, 2009
Get your butt out of that chair, now! Even 10 minutes of dancing, marching in place or other moderate exercise two or three times a day can add up to a big payoff for your heart and mind, according to Dr. Toni Yancey of UCLA. A former college basketball player and fashion model, Yancey has spent much of her medical career helping people who hate exercise get more. And she's learned a few things that can help us all:
Exercising With A Crowd Is Easier
Yancey describes the minifitness sessions as a part of a "captive audience strategy." It can be tough to get some people to break their work routine even for 10 minutes to exercise, she says, though they'll have fun if they do. So sometimes, while addressing a conference, she will stop midway and tell the gathered crowd that they are going to stop for a little exercise. "People kind of frown, look around nervously, particularly those who are overweight or obese and not used to exercising in public," she says.
But once Yancey puts on the DVD and turns on the music, "they do it because everyone else is doing it." That's the key, she says. "We're social beings. The motivation is social." And, often, even short exercise breaks will entice people to adopt healthier lifestyles — better diets and exercise — over the long run.
Company Support Is Crucial
To make daily exercise a priority, top-down leadership is necessary for bottom-up support, Yancey says. Some companies have started pushing back from the conference table to institute "walking meetings" or even replaced the seats around the conference table with elliptical machines. As a start, she says, companies might institute a sort of "sitting" ban similar to smoking bans — at least during some meetings, for those who are able. The most successful intervention, she says, may require the CEO and other managers to join in a five- or 10-minute recess break like the sessions she teaches: a brief, low-impact, simple and structured group physical activity, usually done to music and integrated into the organizational routine at work.
The People Who Need It Most Will Get The Most Out Of It
Critics sometimes squeal that short breaks don't raise the heart rate enough to help folks who are already in good shape lose weight or increase their fitness. That may be true. But they'll be refreshed and have fun, and it's the best way to get to others who are true couch potatoes. Yancey's studies show that even a little exercise in the afternoon increases the likelihood that people will take the extra initiative and get more exercise in the evening or on the weekend.
What's Good For The Worker Is Good For The Company
Retailer L.L. Bean instituted daily, mini-exercise breaks 15 years ago throughout its assembly plant with great results, Yancey says. The breaks were five minutes each, three times a day. At the end of the shift, the company found a 30-minute return on productivity for an investment of 15 minutes of physical activity. "The number of bags and shoes that they do not produce in those 15 minutes," she says, "they actually get back and then some." Yancey is now involved in a study looking at how employees fare at more than 70 work sites instituting similar programs across Los Angeles County. She expects findings within three years. [Copyright 2013 NPR]
PATTI NEIGHMOND: I'm Patti Neighmond in Los Angeles. It turns out adults who aren't likely to exercise in their free time can also get a lot of benefit from mini breaks. At UCLA School of Public Health, employees are being offered paid exercise breaks 10 minutes, twice a day.
Dr. ANTRONETTE YANCEY (UCLA School of Public Health): Thumbs on your shoulders, push it up, up.
NEIGHMOND: Dr. Antronette Yancey is a physician who's passionate about getting people to get up and move.
Dr. YANCEY: Up, down.
NEIGHMOND: Yancey's enthusiasm is big and catching as she cajoles and encourages 25 people in their morning lift off. Lift those bums off the chair. Today's program is modeled after baseball moves. Other sessions mimic basketball, football or dance. Either way, they add up to 10 minutes of reaching, lifting and lunging.
Dr. YANCEY: Inhale, stretch.
NEIGHMOND: And when it's over, a feeling of renewal, much like that for 75-year-old Octavia Miles.
Ms. OCTAVIA MILES: I feel like I can go home and go back to my office and work for hours once I've finished - completed one of these. I have more energy.
NEIGHMOND: Exactly what Dr. Yancey wants to see. Yancey herself was a basketball star in college before going to medical school, and she'll tell anyone that lifelong exercise is a major key to good health. It's heartfelt for her, because it's the opposite of what she saw 20 years ago when she started working as a doctor.
Dr. YANCEY: As I was practicing in New York City in foster care clinics, in emergency rooms, I just felt that I wasn't really getting at the root cause of the problem. You know, I could write prescriptions, you know, till the cows come home and I still wasn't really going to make a dent in the things that were causing the problem.
NEIGHMOND: Problems like diabetes and high blood pressure that hit particularly hard in people who didn't exercise or eat well. So Yancey's on a crusade to get workers across the country to get their buns off their chair and get at least 10 minutes of exercise every day. Even that little bit, she says, can be a trigger for more lasting, healthy changes.
Dr. YANCEY: When people are active, they don't particularly want to drink a lot of sweet, you know, sugary drinks. I mean, you sweated in the last five years, right? Did you want a big soda, 20 ounces after that? No, you wanted some water.
NEIGHMOND: And Yancey says even people who are overweight and intimidated by hardcore exercise can handle and even enjoy short little breaks.
Dr. YANCEY: I saw people who were three or 400 pounds who came up to me after a talk and said I haven't done anything in 10 years. And, you know, I thought you were crazy when you first stood up there, but I can do it. It actually feels good.
All right, Marina. Let's go.
NEIGHMOND: On this day, Yancey scours the UCLA hallways for people to take part in the afternoon exercise breaks. She's not successful with everybody. Some people say they're chained to their desks and just can't take a break.
Dr. YANCEY: Dip, tap. Dip…
NEIGHMOND: But for those who do, dance takes center stage.
Dr. YANCEY: Now, let's do the hallelujah, African-dance style.
NEIGHMOND: Federal health officials recommend 30 minutes of moderate activity a day, but most adults don't get nearly that much, which is why Yancey advocates environments built to encourage exercise, buildings where most elevators don't stop at every floor, parking lots that put most drivers a good 10-minute walk away, and paid exercise breaks built into the work day. The L.L. Bean Company in Maine is already doing that. Fifteen years ago, Yancey says they instituted a five-minute exercise break three times a day.
Dr. YANCEY: Everybody does it. Stop the assembly lines.
NEIGHMOND: And the company wins, too.
Dr. YANCEY: They get 30 minutes worth of productivity. So the number of bags, you know, shoes, whatever that they did not produce in those 15 minutes of exercise they actually get back, and then some - actually, 100 percent more.
NEIGHMOND: Double the return on an investment of just 15 minutes of exercise a day.
Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: If you've got questions about mini exercise breaks, we've got answers. We have experts on hand for a live Web chat that starts today at noon eastern time. Join us at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.