Taking “active breaks” during work hours is easy to do, and it’s good for you.

In today's working world, there are literally millions of people sitting at work for most of the day, often at desks or "locked on" to their computers.

Man cheeringWith a little planning and motivation, you can make active breaks work for you.  An active break can be as simple as taking a ten-minute walk outside during your lunch hour or coffee break. Or, it could involve regular exercise, such as visits to a fitness facility at your workplace or nearby.

You can plan all kinds of “active breaks” into your day, without losing productivity. In fact, research has shown that workers who are more physically active during the day tend to be more productive.

Remember, it's not rocket science. We shouldn't be surprised to learn the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. After all, we were born to work, play and move.

Get Moving, Take an Active Break
Here are some simple and easy active steps you can take to get moving during work hours:

  • When you take a break from work, go for a short walk outside or indoors, every day. Over time, try to increase the distance you walk, or take a short walking break several times a day.
  • Take a few minutes to do some easy, natural stretches. Do this several times a day, at your desk, or in a private area, such as a fitness room. If you go for a walk, include a few minutes for some gentle stretches.
  • Join a lunch hour fitness program. Choose a time that works for you, such as right after work, in the evening, or before work. Try to choose an activity that you can also do on your own time, so you can benefit daily or several times a week from the activity.
  • Consider taking public transportation, which will mean daily walks to transit stops. Enjoy the walk and the fact that you are more active.
  • For people with disabilities, or medical or mobility issues, take active breaks that are right for you or are recommended by your doctor. For example, wheelchair users can go around the block at lunch with co-workers. Or, a working person with a medical condition may be able to do some of the exercises in a fitness class, or do slightly easier or modified versions of all the exercises.
  • Join with co-workers in supporting a fundraising event, such as a run or walk in support of a charitable cause. Gear up for the event by training daily or several times a week with co-workers. This type of active break is a good approach to teambuilding in the workplace.
  • Conduct selected meetings while walking, such as one-on-one meetings or small gatherings where agenda items are clear and manageable. Getting outdoors for a walk can help people to generate ideas because they are more invigorated. Plus, when the meeting is over, everyone will have a little more energy when they return to their work.

Take Active Breaks That You Enjoy
Many fitness professionals recommend that you get involved in physical activities or sports that you enjoy.  In other words, don't run at lunch hours if running is not your thing; you may lose interest. Choose an activity that you prefer, such as registering in a yoga class. With just a little bit of training, you can get even more benefits when you can practice yoga movements on your own time, at work and at home!

In many workplaces, there are organized or occasional activities to get involved in, such as running clubs, biking clubs and fitness sessions. If there are no events or activities happening at your workplace, try to get something "rolling." You'll be glad you did and quite possibly some of your co-workers will be equally happy to get involved and get moving.

Active Breaks Benefit Employees and Employers
It's true. Regular active breaks get workers away from sitting for most of the day and often help to boost an employee's productivity. Think about yourself and people you know. Most people enjoy their breaks from work and are energized by physical activity, returning to their work stations ready to get things done.

Getting out of the workplace or away from your work station can have a positive effect. If you can get outside for a walk or into a park or nature, the positive effects of your break may increase.

Employers also benefit when employees take regular active breaks. Many employers have recognized that promoting active breaks, work/life balance and healthy, active living contributes to overall productivity. No wonder some of today's leading employers are those who recognize these factors. Equally, it's no wonder that many employees are selectively choosing to work for such employers!

Employers have also noticed that active living and workplace wellness initiatives at work are a great opportunity to enhance teambuilding among co-workers. When you think about it, it makes sense. As people cooperate or gather together during active living events or physical activities, many positive aspects of our human nature become evident as we work together and have fun being active.

Active breaks can also help people to communicate with each other at the most basic level. During a break, staff can simply talk with each other, or in groups, and make connections about work and non-work topics. It's also a great time to learn things, by sharing a skill with others or by learning something totally new.

Taking Longer Active Breaks is Catching On
In addition to supporting their employees in taking short active breaks, such as walking or fitness programs, many employers are taking proactive steps to promote lengthier active breaks.

At this level, the longer breaks are designed to nurture teambuilding, provide a break from normal work routines and generally "charge up" employees by involving them in physical activities that they normally wouldn't do at work.

The activities should not be too physically demanding and should be carefully chosen so that most employees can feel like the activity is a practical and fun active break from their regular jobs. Often, these kinds of active breaks are not strictly "fitness related" and should be chosen or suggested by employees. The more “ownership” of the activity that employees take, the better everyone will feel about participating.

Typically, this may be a half-day or full day activity during a normal work day, such as a summer time baseball game, or a winter walk. In other cases, an employer may choose to promote a quarterly or seasonal active break.

For example, the Alberta Centre for Active Living in Edmonton has a tradition of giving all staff the time to go out of the office on an active break four times per year. Each active break is planned to include everyone on the team. Talk about a teambuilding opportunity!

  • In the summer and fall, staff members often go for a half-day walk in one of the nearby parks in the river valley.
  • In winter, near the holiday season, staff members volunteer at the Edmonton Food Bank. This is an active and spirited day of sorting through donated food, bagging produce, filling hampers or doing other tasks. Staff members feel good about being active and helping the wider community at the same time.
  • In the spring, staff members donate one day of work to Habitat for Humanity. There is always work to be done at a building site or at the organization's Re-Store, where donated building materials are sold. With a little coaching, volunteers learn to help with painting, assembly work, landscaping, construction tasks or other physical work.

Seasonal or quarterly active living breaks are a "win-win" for employees and employers.

  • Employees win by getting a break from routine and actively moving during a work day.
  • Employers win because employee morale is boosted and employee satisfaction is often improved. Plus, in some cases where the activity involves doing work for a charitable cause, goodwill is generated towards the cause and the wider community, and, in turn, the active participation also generates respect and goodwill towards the employer and employees.

Listen to Yourself – and the Experts!
Increasingly, research is showing that being sedentary (usually sitting) for too many hours each day and too many days per week is poor for our health, even if we are reasonably active at other times of the day or week.

For most adults, much of this sedentary time takes place at work.

Taking regular or frequent active breaks while at work can help reduce the time you spend sitting and improve your physical and mental health. In fact, for many people, getting more active during the work day can lead to an improved sense of overall well-being.

The following links offer a wide range of practical information to help you and your co-workers get active! Employers will also find many practical ideas that can contribute to employee wellness, morale and teambuilding.

Learn More
Alberta Centre for Active Living Physical Activity@ Work website
This user-friendly website helps employers, employees, workplace wellness coordinators and human resources advisors encourage physical activity at work.

WellSpring: Promoting Physical Activity at Work
This article discusses how promoting physical activity during the workday benefits both employees and employers, and gives examples of effective ways to promote physical activity at work.

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