This spring, my three-on-three women’s basketball league resumed after a long, pandemic-induced break. So, in the week leading up to the rec league’s return, I started blocking out some time each afternoon in my work calendar to practice shooting since my jumper was a little rusty.
One afternoon, as I shot hoops in the park, I noticed the kids in a nearby schoolyard playing during their recess. It hit me: I, too, was taking a recess.
In that moment, I decided that I should take recess more often, because it turned out to be just what I needed to push through my mid-afternoon slump. Every time I returned to my desk after that outdoor movement, I felt happier and more productive. (Thanks, endorphins!)
In “The Before Times” (a.k.a. pre-pandemic), the workouts I enjoyed most were group fitness classes and rec center sports league games (I played volleyball, basketball, and even kickball). For the past two years, though, I’d mostly been streaming online classes in my living room. By the time we entered the third year of pandemic living, I had reached a breaking point, so you know I was glad to welcome back more social, fun workouts.
My new recess routine has been a total game-changer—and experts agree that short bursts of lighthearted activity can do any fitness regimen some good.
Adult Recess 101
In elementary school, I had proclaimed recess to be my “favorite subject.” Four square, tetherball, monkey bars, soccer, and basketball games—I couldn’t wait to get outside as soon as the bell rang.
These days, I’m doing my best to recreate that same feeling in order to break up my work- and workout-from-home routine. (Not going to lie, I wish I could “Red Rover, Red Rover, send my friends right over” to join in on the fun, but alas, deadlines and nine-to-fives!)
Here’s how it works: I set an alarm on my phone for 1 p.m. every weekday and use the next 20 to 30 minutes to move my body in whatever way sounds fun. Most often it’s shooting hoops, but I’ve also been turning on some music and hula-hooping with a weighted hula hoop and going roller skating around my neighborhood. Next up? I ordered a mini-trampoline for my garage.
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Though the original goal of my recess was to get my basketball shot back on track, I started to notice how much I looked forward to the alarm going off on my phone signaling it was time to get outside and get moving. Once I returned to my desk, it felt like my writer’s block had been lifted and my stress levels were lower.
The Advantages of Recess
The perks of my recess make sense because, aside from physical benefits, taking a break for play can have tremendous mental benefits,” says certified trainer Matt Scarfo, C.P.T., a contributor to online workout plan service Lift Vault. “Exercise releases endorphins, which can elevate your mood and help you think more creatively throughout the day.”
Many of us fall into the trap of thinking that unless we’re panting and sweating through our T-shirts, we’re not working out. My most intense cardio workout is running up and down the court playing basketball, hoping there’s a foul or a timeout so I can catch my breath. Still, there’s plenty of merit in lower-intensity workouts like shooting hoops, even if it just feels like fun, experts say.
“Whether you’re going for a walk, playing basketball, or skating around your neighborhood, you’re doing an activity that can pay off for your heart in the long-term,” Scarfo says.
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Of course, it’s a good idea to switch up your routine and try new activities that you enjoy, says John Gardner, C.P.T., co-founder of remote personal training platform Kickoff. Whether it’s hiking, kayaking, rollerblading, cycling, hula hooping, or dancing, try out whatever suits your fancy.
My only question now: How do we convince HR offices that recess should be built into the workday?