October 22, 2013 in Features, Health

‘Recess’ keeps workers moving

Exercise break creates ‘psychological lift,’ too
Mary Macvean Los Angeles Times
 

Althea Nelson, center, is joined by other staff and management during “Bruin Break” at UCLA Medical Center.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES – UCLA Health encourages a little goofing off on company time. But inefficiency is the last thing on the agenda.

At least three days a week, employees from 10 departments at UCLA Health facilities gather as the music gets cranked up for a 10-minute workout. It’s called Bruin Break, an adaptation of the “instant recess” initiative developed to motivate “mouse potatoes” by the late Dr. Antronette Yancey, a UCLA public health professor.

One recent morning, physical therapists, administrative staff, the lift team (as in lifting patients) and others at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s rehabilitation unit got together in a sunny hall. Physical therapist –and volunteer break leader – Ellen Towles had picked Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart,” C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and “What Is Love” by Haddaway – songs “that make you move,” Towles says.

The workouts are meant to be easy enough so that everyone can take part without changing clothes. Towles and a colleague offer easier and harder versions of most moves.

“It’s a motivating factor to see your colleagues out here moving around,” says Althea Nelson, an administrative assistant who credits Bruin Breaks with inspiring her to join a gym.

“It’s therapeutic, no pun intended,” Nelson said after she and 15 other people joined Towles’ workout.

“It’s all part of being physically fit,” says Darren Jones, a regular participant and a member of the lift team.

“For me, it’s a mental, psychological lift,” says Jason Tanaka, another physical therapist. And it shows, he says, that the workers practice what they preach to patients.

Plenty of employers counsel their workers to exercise and be healthy, but Yancey, who died of cancer earlier this year at age 55, had long championed the idea that it’s worthwhile for companies, schools and other organizations to institute short bursts of activity in every workday.

“These bodies were just not meant for so much sitting and so little standing,” Yancey, who played college basketball, said in a 2012 TEDx talk. Her program, outlined in her book “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time,” has spread to hundreds of groups around the country. The results of her study of its effects have not yet been published.

Wellness coordinator Ragini Gill would like to see Bruin Breaks spread to all 15,000 UCLA Health employees. She tracked the effects in one department the first year, 2012, and found a significant drop in sick time attributed to repetitive stress injuries.

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