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Take 10

By Kimberly Hayes Taylor 

LivingWELL • February 2011

HENRY FORD HEALTH System President & CEO Nancy Schlichting, Ed Gordon, Dr. Toni Yancy, Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom and

Henry Ford Hospital President Dr. John Popovich Jr.

pause to celebrate the success of the system’s MLK Day event.


By now, we’ve all gotten the message that we should exercise at least 30 minutes a day four to five times a week, but too few of us do that. In fact, earlier this month, in its national checkup, the Centers for Disease Control reported that less than two in 10 Americans get anywhere near the recommended amounts of exercise. And most Americans don’t work out at all, not even getting light exercise such as golfing or gardening.

If we expect to remain healthy and ward off obesity, Dr. Toni Yancey, a professor at University of California – Los Angeles says we’ve got to do something about that even if we can’t get in the full recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, including strength training. Because when asked how much they exercise, people typically grossly exaggerate the amount of time they spend doing physical activity, Yancey, who also serves on a nine member Partnership for a Healthier America board that support first lady Michelle Obama’s 

“Let’s Move” campaign, doubts the numbers are even that high.

As a solution, she prescribes the instant recess, a 10-minute dancelike exercise break that can done anywhere people come together such as schools, conferences, places of worship, workplaces, and senior centers. She details her plan in her new book, “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation Ten Minutes at a Time” (California University Press).

“Physical activity has so many benefits,” says Yancey, Professor of Health Service and Co-Director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity at the UCLA School of Public Health. “There really is not a major organ system that it doesn’t impact. It improves thinking ability, cognitive function, mood, cardiovascular health, helps prevent diabetes and improves bone health. If something as simple as 10 minutes a day can improve health and get people on the pathway toward physical activity, it seems like a great starting point.”

It’s also a matter of dollars and sense, says Yancey, who brought her message to Detroit last month as the keynote speaker for Henry Ford Health System’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebration and who is interested in collaborating on health initiatives with Detroit area schools, places of worship, community centers and workplaces.

The cost of exercise is virtually free, but obesity-related health care costs about $147 billion each year. Treating diabetes alone cost an estimated $116 billion. According to the latest numbers from the CDC, about 34 percent of adults in the United States are obese and another 34 percent are


Yancey insists that these short exercise breaks can do more to foster federal No Child Left Behind Goals than twice the amount of time it takes to get children to remember their English and math lessons. Across the country, recess and other forms of physical fitness have gotten the axe because of pressure to improve standardized test scores, and have been identified as a reason for the increased rate of childhood obesity.

She cites a University of Kansas study conducted at 24 low-income public schools that found a 10-minute activity break, typically done to music, led to higher student scores in English composition, spelling and math among students.

Students who participated in the study also boosted their level of activity when they weren’t at school in the evenings, weekends. Compared to students who attended schools that did not participate in the fitness study, students who had fitness breaks gained less weight.

Yancey says she came up with the idea for the 10- minute exercise breaks while she headed the health department in Richmond, Va. While she sent fitness instructors out to low-income communities such as churches, schools and community centers, she considered the CDC’s idea that recommended levels of exercise didn’t have to be done all at once; it could be done in intervals throughout the day. Coincidentally, at that time, she worked under the supervision of Detroit Public School’s Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb.

The term “Instant Recess” was coined in 2006 after Yancey and her colleagues at the Los Angeles Department of Public Health implemented the original workplace-targeted activity break intervention, “Lift Off! (Lift those buns Off the couches and chairs!)” for the Professional Athletes Council with the California Department of Health Services.

Her idea has lit a fire around the country, and is being done at sporting events, schools, churches and other gathering places. For example, the Atlanta Dream, the city’s Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team has produced a DVD and will soon have people doing the 10-minute dancelike moves at basketball games. She hopes a similar program will be implemented at Detroit Shock games.

“People in the stands like it,” she says. “Who wants to sit for a long time? People have gotten very sluggish. We’ll get it on the Megatron screen, it could be fun. We’ve got to get the fun injected back into it.” Yancey has implemented her recess sites at 70 workplaces in Los Angeles County. Winston-Salem, N.C. schools also have gotten in on the party, and at companies such as L.L. Bean and Greensboro, N.C.-based Replacements Ltd., which sells replacements for silverware and sets of china.

Replacements reported that after employees began the 10-minute exercise breaks fewer called in sick because they suffered conditions such as low back pain or carpal tunnel. After the first lady held a conference call with the faith community for her “Let’s Move,” campaign a number of churches have gotten in on the act, and dozens are having Instant Recesses at choir rehearsal, Sunday school and Bible classes.

“We’ve gotten a lot of praise around the country,” Yancey says. “There’s no down side to this. This is fun, it’s easy and you can do it anywhere, anytime and in any attire. It’s not only good for individuals, it’s good for organizations. If you are a minister of a church and you want your parishioners around for a long time to volunteer, and to tithe, and if you’re a principal and you want your students to perform better on standardized tests, this is one way to approach it.”

For more information on how you or your school, place of worship or community center can implement the Instant Recess program, visit www.toniyancey.com for tools and resources.