Take Breaks for Better Health and a More Productive Day
Do you consider it a luxury to take a break? Whether a lunch break or a vacation, breaks make you sharper, healthier and better at your job.
Although some people have real obstacles to taking breaks, many people are offered breaks and vacations but do not take them. If that’s you, here’s some news: breaks will make you better at what you do.
Breaks make you more efficient
If this surprises you, it may be that you have come to think of a human being as an efficiency machine rather than, well, a human being.
Human beings can’t make their minds and bodies work at maximum capacity for eight or nine straight hours, no matter the workday schedule or what must be done. I have noticed that my productivity takes a nosedive at about hour two or three after I sit down to work. When I take a break – even a short one – I reclaim some of that productivity.
If your job involves customer service, a break will renew your patience and your ability to problem-solve. If you do physical work, a break will give your body and mind the time to rest so you can dive in with renewed vigor.
Breaks make you more creative
A break can spark your creativity when you change your setting. Go outside. Walk down the block. Go to the park. Window shop. We think new thoughts when we’re in new places. When you’re working on a tough problem, sometimes the most efficient way to work on it is to change your setting.
Breaks sharpen your mind and help combat the dangers of sitting
Getting up and moving will also give your brain a boost. In Brain Rules, Dr. John Medina reminds us that our brains evolved to work best while we were out in the world moving. Movement is still a cue to your brain that it’s time to get into a higher thinking gear.
If your work involves a lot of sitting and not a lot of moving, get up and move around during the day. You will avoid the dangers of too much sitting and you won’t be as stiff and sore during the day.
Breaks help you manage stress
If you have a job that involves physical stress (lifting, standing, bending), a break will help your body recover.
If you have a job that involves mental stress (and who doesn’t?), a break will help you put things into perspective. When you take your break with friends or colleagues, you can talk and laugh together to relieve some of the stress. Any exercise, including walking, can help you physically release the stress that’s been building up. When you’re feeling stressed, your body thinks it needs to do something physical. Release the stress by moving.
Short, simple breaks work, too
Sometimes people don’t include breaks into their day because they think it involves more time and effort than they feel they have. But short breaks do wonders for your mental and physical health, too. Here are some ideas:
• Walk down the hall.
• Walk around the block.
• Walk up and down the stairs in your building.
• Stand up, stretch and breathe. Stretch your chest to reverse the hunched over sitting position so many of us do. Do a few exercises to avoid wrist soreness and carpal tunnel syndrome.
• Stand up, close your eyes and then open them to focus on something in the distance. It is important to take care of your eyes if you look at a screen all day (as most of us do).
• If you are on your feet all day, sit for a few minutes. If you can’t sit, stretch your legs or shake them out.
• Get up from your desk to make a cup of tea or fill your water bottle.
If your job doesn’t offer breaks
Federal law does not require employers to offer breaks, so you may have a job that doesn’t give you an official break. Or, you may take care of young children all day and have few opportunities to rest. Do your best to take advantage of lulls or slow times during your day to sit down (if you are standing all day) or stand up (if you are sitting all day), stretch and breathe. If you cannot sit down or there is nowhere to sit, take a few minutes stretch and move your legs during your shift.
Breaks are the “white space” in our lives – empty spaces that create room for new thoughts, ideas and perspectives. Find a way to take breaks during your day. It is a gift to yourself, your co-workers, your customers and your family. It is a small way to reaffirm your humanity and allow others to do the same.
If you would like more information on this, or any other health-related topic, the Health Educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted and reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today!
Be well, be well informed.