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Brain Breaks at Work: National Physiotherapy Back Week

by Carmen Andrews - Physiotherapist

Brain Breaks at Work: National Physiotherapy Back Week

For 2019’s National Physiotherapy BackWeek (1-8 September), the South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP) is challenging employers and employees to schedule brief ‘Brain Breaks’ to boost brain power!

Should I take exercise breaks at work? Yes…if you want to be productive and healthy!

A notebook pc standing open on an empty desk - out of office on a brain break Out of office…on a brain break! Get moving to sharpen your mind.

8:30 am: with a steaming cup of coffee you sit at your desk and get down to work. It may be two or even three hours before you move again, to head for the gents/ladies or pour another cuppa. Hard as we work these days, many office workers barely leave their swivel chairs, sitting down for seven and more hours every day.

And this, it’s been established, is not ideal. Sedentary bodies are at greater risk of many conditions that threaten quality and even length of life. Most adults, say the Australian authors of a 2010 study, face a two-pronged challenge: too much sitting coupled with too little exercise.

But how do you find time to exercise? Early in the morning or after close of business, these seem to be the best options, although they make other things, like family time, a bit more difficult.

How about taking time off in the middle of the working day? Forty or 50 minutes a day can be split into ten-minute blocks if necessary, to stimulate and engage both the body and brain (something exercise is proven to do). From a study published in the Lancet, “Researcher Ulf Ekelund, a Professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, suggested that the one hour of activity could be brisk walking or cycling but said that the exercise doesn’t have to be so rigorous or all at one time. That is, the hour of activity can be spread out over the entire day.”

Employers will undoubtedly assume that taking hours out of every work week to exercise will decrease productivity, but it turns out that they’re wrong. Workers, if anything, were more productive, even though they had less time on their hands than before incorporating exercise into each day.

And “…those who exercised also reported improvements in self-assessed productivity -- they perceived that they got more done at work, had a greater work capacity, and were sick less often.”

“Our bodies were not designed to be still all day,” says Professor Witness Mudzi, President of the SASP. “We have to move to keep our organs in good shape, to keep lymph flowing, to keep our lungs working optimally, to prevent pain conditions and muscle weakness. In days gone by, this was not a worry, certainly not for the working classes or farm workers; but now, it behoves both employers and employees to plan working days which allow for a bare minimum of physical activity, to ensure healthy, happy and motivated workforces.”

Reboot brain and body…

A woman standing on a balcony with her arms raised - on a brain break Get out of your office and do something active – it will make work hours more productive!

Exercise is not just good for a toned, healthy body – it’s also good for a toned, healthy brain! “Our brains work better if we can squeeze a solid chunk of exercise into each day,” says Professor Witness Mudzi, President of the South African Society of Physiotherapy. “For the 2019 National Physiotherapy Back Week, we’re challenging everyone, from school learners to executives to carers, to find creative ways of ensuring that they get regular exercise or movement during the day. We call them brain breaks, as they’re so good for refreshing mental sharpness.”

Tips for sneaky exercise:
- Work out at lunchtime.If your office has a gym, doing half an hour is easy; otherwise put on some comfortable walking shoes and head for the nearest shopping mall, office park or green space for a walk.

- Take an active break every half hour.Go upstairs or down to make coffee; walk to a different office for a meeting; take a walking meeting with a colleague.

- Go the long way. Park far from the mall entrance when shopping; take the stairs instead of the lift.

- Do it the hard way. Make it a matter of pride that you never use the escalator, you always take the stairs; scrub your floors at home; mow your own lawn.

- Get a dog and walk it. Dogs need the exercise, too, and they depend on you to give it!

- Keep a couple of hand weights at your desk and use them while taking calls.

- Ask your physiotherapist about exercises you can do using chairs, walls and window ledges. You’ll be amazed – simply doing squats sliding up and down your office wall can be quite demanding!

If you need to sell your boss (or yourself) on the idea of taking brain breaks every day, just remember: there’s evidence regular physical activity leads to better on the job performance, physical resilience (less absenteeism), more enthusiasm and, less stress. What’s not to like?

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Author: PhysioSA communications and marketing team (

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