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Expert: 10-Minute Workouts Can Have Big Payoff

by PATTI NEIGHMOND                                 Listen to the Story  [4 min 44 sec]


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 2010 NPR


Chris Hardy

Children and families participate in "Instant Recess" breaks prior to every San Diego Padres Sunday home game as a part of the new fitness initiative.


Reed Hutchinson

Dr. Toni Yancey (right) leads activity break classes called Lift Offs to help people who work behind a desk incorporate exercise into their day.


Chris Hardy

Yancey's research shows that even short amounts of exercise can trigger more lasting healthy changes.