The Benefits of Short Breaks

It’s a long afternoon in the office, and your focus is waning. After staring out the window for a few half-conscious minutes, you tell yourself, “Maybe I’ll just get up and take a lap. I’ll get some water or see what my buddy is doing down the hall.”

It turns out your break is more than just a cubicle “coping mechanism” or even a recharge for a distracted mind. New research out of Australia shows that frequent breaks with even a modest amount of movement (like standing and stretching) have significant physical benefit. The study measured the impact of “light activity” on a number of health markers in 168 healthy adults.

This healthy group, who ranged in age from 30 to 87 years, kept an activity diary and wore an accelerometer during all waking hours for 7 days, the researchers report in Diabetes Care. The accelerometer, worn firmly around the trunk, measured the duration, type, and intensity of physical activity in counts per minute.

The researchers considered accelerometer counts of less than 100 per minute as sedentary periods, and counts of 100 or greater as active time. Light-intensity activity was from 100 to 1951 per minute and counts more than 1951 were periods of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

Overall, participants spent 57, 39, and 4 percent of their waking hours in sedentary, light-intensity, and moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity, respectively. On average, their breaks lasted less than 5 minutes, with accelerometer counts of 514 per minute.

They found that the number of breaks from sedentary activity positively correlated with lower waist circumference, lower triglycerides, and lower 2-plasma glucose scores.

via Medline Plus

While no one is saying those few steps to the water cooler will keep you healthy, it appears frequent “up and about” breaks add to a person’s overall picture of health. The breaks, according to researchers, “complement” other kinds of physical activity. Cool, huh?

And it makes total sense. It’s unlikely that Grok had the chance to sit and veg in front of the fire for countless hours at a time. At least not to the extent that modern man has seen. The human body is made to move, and plain old, everyday activity counts for something now as it did then. Gardening, cleaning, woodworking, strolling, stretching and sauntering around the neighborhood or office: it all helps. Next time your boss gives you a quizzical look (or evil eye) for making the rounds, tell him/her that Grok’s just grooving his body.

Thoughts? Tricks for office breaks? Do share.

Lex in the City Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Physical Inactivity Linked to Prostate Cancer Risk

Stress Relief at Your Desk

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