Micro breaks for macro benefits
The programmes consist of 30 second ME Time breaks – ‘ME’ stands for ‘Mini Exercises.
Studies show that regular short breaks are essential for good health. They improve concentration levels, mood, health and cognitive ability, while also decreasing pain and the chance of injury in both the short term and long term.
In a study of surgeons, it was shown that those who had 20-second active micro breaks every 20 minutes performed tasks seven times better than those who hadn’t.
They also had half the levels of physical fatigue and felt less pain in their backs, necks, shoulders and wrists.
When to have micro breaks
Micro breaks are best used whenever there are long periods of time when people are:
- doing the same task, or
- not getting in much movement, or
- not getting in much variety of movement.
They are equally important for those using standing desks, or on factory lines or seated on ergonomic chairs and Swiss balls.
The ME Time programme is easy to roll out, minimally disruptive and not prone to technical glitches.
The short exercises are achievable by staff of all abilities and address strength, balance, flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, range of motion and posture.
To incorporate this into most workplace environments, we suggest 30 seconds every 30 minutes. However, heavy key board users or those performing repetitious hand movements might need to also have hand/arm breaks for 10 seconds every 10 minutes.
What are others saying?
“I felt immediate benefit from the ME Time exercises on my ability to focus, energy, mood, alertness and physical comfort. I found it easier to work harder and stay on track between ME Time breaks. Just getting eye contact with someone else doing it made/created a good feeling in the team. We were more engaged and cohesive as a team while doing it.” Kristina D. Call centre. NSW
If staff are doing 30 minutes of activity a day already, isn’t that enough?
Getting in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a day is important, but it’s a separate thing altogether to breaking up sedentary time with regular small bouts of movement. Both are equally important, and neither one replaces the other.
Can’t staff do micro breaks solo?
They could, but studies tell us they won’t. In the surgeon study, despite the positive results few of them did the exercises unless the nurses enforced them! Our programme, like theirs, is more likely to work when two or more people commit to doing the exercises at the same time.
Is walking to the water cooler enough?
Encouraging staff to walk to the water cooler during their breaks, is a great start, particularly if they get some water to drink while they are there, but it won’t give you the most bang for your buck. Asking people to ‘just get up and move a bit’ every 30 minutes is similar. Without more specific instructions, the movement won’t be as motivational or as varied and as physiologically beneficial as it could be and you will not get the maximum engagement or the results you’re chasing.
Saying that, our exercise prompts still leave a lot of room for interpretation and, as such, cater for people’s varying abilities, energy levels, injuries, personality types and the space they have available.
- Surgeon Study: 20 Second Breaks every 20 Minutes leads to 7 times improvement
- Surgeon Study 2018: Active breaks and why to avoid static stretches
- Stanford University recommendations – 20 seconds every 20 minutes
- Benefit of small bouts of exercise – Australian Universities released January 2020
- Why It’s Important for Students to Take Breaks During Homework – Cindy Hovington, Ph.D
- Wilkinson, M. & Demsky, C.A. (2016). Micro breaks. In S. G. Rogelberg (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.
- The feasibility and impact of embedding pedagogical strategies targeting physical activity within undergraduate teacher education – 2019