Tag Archives: instant recess

Go outside and play!

If you are like most people, you have probably spent much of the day indoors, probably sitting. In fact, this is likely how you spend most days. According to one survey, the average American may spend up to 15 hours per day sitting at work or at home. If you subtract sleeping, this accounts for nearly the entire day!

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. Consider yourself lucky if you have a job that keeps you active.

The good news is that you can offset the health effects of sitting too much. Taking short breaks at work can improve attention and productivity. In fact, many time management and productivity techniques include periods of focused work separated by breaks. Using these breaks to get up and move is good for your body and your mind. The same is true at home—getting off the couch during TV commercials can have the same benefits.

Even greater benefits can be gained from dedicating more time to be active, especially regular exercise. A lower risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers are among a long list of positive health effects of physical activity. Lesser known benefits include improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of wellbeing.

Being active in a natural environment seems to have an even bigger impact on mental health. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Indeed, activity outdoors leads to enhanced feelings of energy and diminished fatigue, anxiety, anger, and sadness compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Additionally, some research suggests that outdoor activity may improve attention in adults and children.

Another advantage of exercising outdoors is that you might get a better workout. This is mostly due to the fact that you will likely walk or run faster outdoors, but other factors like wind resistance add to your effort. Research shows that even though people tend to exercise at a higher intensity outside, they don’t necessarily feel it. In fact, ratings of effort are lower outdoors for the same exercise.

This because the pleasant visual stimuli outdoors distracts you from unpleasant sensations of effort during exercise. This is the same reason that listening to music makes exercise more enjoyable and why fitness centers have televisions on the walls or built into exercise equipment. Think of the outdoors as a really big TV screen!

Almost any indoor exercise can be moved outdoors. While walking, running, and cycling are most obvious, resistance training exercises using body weight and many high-intensity interval training workouts can be modified for outdoors. Yoga and aerobics classes in the park are also great ways to promote both the physical and psychological benefits of exercise.

Much of the psychological benefit of outdoor exercise occurs in the first five minutes, so even short bouts of activity are meaningful. It also means that going for a short walk outside when you have a break at work or walking instead of driving short distances can have positive effects. At home, taking the dog for a walk, playing outside with the kids, or doing yard work are good ways to be active and reap the benefits of being outdoors.

Every little bit of activity you do outdoors will have both physical and psychological benefits to help you become and feel healthier. So, go outside and play!

It’s not just for kids: Adults need recess, too.

The childhood obesity epidemic is usually blamed, in part, on the fact that most kids aren’t active enough at home and at school. Opportunities for activity in school are less common now because programs like physical education and recess are being cut in an effort to save money or to dedicate time for test preparation. This has an effect not only on health but on academic performance, since regular activity improves attention, memory, and learning (in addition to the health benefits).

Parents are partly to blame, too. There are plenty of missed opportunities for physical activity outside of school. Since most adults don’t get enough activity, it is no surprise that they aren’t encouraging their kids to be active.

Adults get the same benefits from regular physical activity as children do. Just as kids who are active during the  day perform better at school, adults who are active at work are more productive. But most people spend much of their work day sitting with little to no activity. This is bad for health and for job performance.

So why don’t adults get recess, too? They should!

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. It is also the mission behind an initiative called Instant Recess, which provides tools to help people include short activity breaks into their day. Far from being a burden or a waste of time, these short bouts of activity improve health, mental wellbeing, and productivity.