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Instant Recess — a 10-minute fitness break — takes off around campus

Thanks to a powerful public health advocate who was committed to battling obesity on a national scale and getting people to exercise, even for just 10 minutes, recess will no longer be the same for students, faculty and staff at UCLA.


Before you grab lunch, pick up a hula hoop or a jump rope instead or tap into your inner-Beyonce and dare to perform a few dance moves in public. 


As part of the Healthy Campus Initiative, the campus is joining the nationwide Instant Recess movement that was pioneered in the 1990s by the late Dr. Antronette (Toni) Yancey, a onetime college basketball player and fashion model who, in addition to her work as a scholar and public health practitioner, became a leading voice for a new approach to promoting healthy eating and physical activity.



At locations around campus, including the bottom of Janss Steps, students, staff and faculty take a fitness break during the day.

Instant Recess, a 10-minute burst of low-impact dance movements that breaks out in K-12 schools, churches, workplaces, meetings and community centers across the country, was conceived by Yancey as a way to make exercise/physical activity accessible to all and to level the playing field for those who did not have the time or the resources to engage in discretionary or leisure-time physical activity.


In a program funded by the Healthy Campus Initiative and recently launched by UCLA Recreation as “Recess Time, inspired by Instant Recess,” health champions — students, staff and faculty who volunteer to serve as wellness resources to their colleagues or classmates and undergo Instant Recess training — are leading 10-minute exercise breaks through the week at different campus locations.


On another part of the campus, Reagan UCLA Medical Center has adapted “Instant Recess” into Bruin Break, a program in which more than 100 employees show up voluntarily during the work day at various times and places to do a 10-minute low-impact mini-exercise. The routines are led by fellow employees.     


In bringing Instant Recess to UCLA campuswide, Professor Michael Goldstein, associate vice provost of the Healthy Campus Initiative, it’s hoped that faculty and staff will benefit from mid-day activity breaks and experience a decrease in appetite, reduced stress and anxiety, and an increase in overall energy and alertness.



Yancey, a physician and Fielding School of Public Health professor who died in April of lung cancer (she was a non-smoker), maintained that expecting busy people in low-resource neighborhoods to find opportunities to be physically active and eat nutrient-rich foods wasn’t working. Instead, she argued with religious fervor that efforts should focus on engaging captive audiences in everyday settings like schools, workplaces, churches and sporting events.


So starting in the 1990s, when few obesity prevention efforts were focused on promoting physical fitness, Yancey came up with a simple formula for what would become known as Instant Recess.


Requiring only a boom box and culturally relevant music, Instant Recess was designed by Yancey to be fun, accessible for people of all fitness levels and easily adaptable to school, work and community life.


“For many people — especially in lower-income communities where park space is scarce and the neighborhood might not be safe — the outside environment isn’t always conducive to physical activity,” she once explained. “Instant Recess can be done inside, and it doesn’t require a lot of space or a fitness room.”



Following Yancey’s death, the grant is being led by UCLA professor Roshan Bastani; Bastani and Yancey were founding co-directors of the UCLA Kaiser center at the Fielding school.


In 14 metropolitan areas throughout the U.S., the project is working with community organizations to promote policies and other research-tested strategies that make enjoyable physical activity and appealing nutritious options default choices in people’s everyday settings.


Initially when Yancey, then director of the L.A. County Health Department’s Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, introduced the concept of a 10-minute exercise break (it was initially called Los Angeles Liftoff), she met with skepticism.


William McCarthy, a professor at the Fielding school who is co-investigator of the CDC study and a longtime research collaborator of Yancey’s, countered that it was only 10 minutes of exercise, not the 30 recommended by federal guidelines. “You’re not going to see any benefits,” he told her.


“She said, ‘Oh yes, you will,’” McCarthy recalled. As they analyzed the results from the first study of the approach, he saw that Yancey might be on to something. It wasn’t so much the physical benefits as it was the behavioral impact: The 10-minute activity served as a wake-up call for adults who had been sedentary for years, motivating many of them to do more.


“She argued that to reach those who most need more physical activity, you had to get them in the workplace, and a 10-minute bout might be as much as they were capable of doing when starting out,” McCarthy said.


McCarthy said he also appreciated other appealing aspects. “It’s intrinsically fun,” he said. “She made a variety of culturally specific invitations to engage in rhythmic dance – gospel music, salsa music, Native American pow-wow music.”



Dr. Antronette Yancy regularly led Instant Recess sessions in front of the entrance to the public health school, where she was a faculty member. Short fitness breaks were organized in her memory following her death in 2013.

In 2010, Yancey’s book “Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time” issued a call to action for a sedentary nation, and the response has been profound.


First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, for which Yancey was an advisor, has embraced the Instant Recess concept.


So far, Instant Recess materials have been purchased by organizations in 47 states as well as in 10 foreign countries. Partnerships with professional athletes and teams have promoted the Instant Recess model, both within sports venues and in outreach to schools and other youth programs. Since 2008, Instant Recess has been part of the San Diego Padres’ FriarFit initiative, encouraging fans outside the baseball stadium to get moving for 10 minutes before every Sunday home game.


Through a collaboration with a wellness campaign by the California League of Cities and a health advocacy group, 22 California cities have adopted policies advocating activity breaks at  meetings lasting an hour or longer.


Two years ago, Yancey joined the Rev. Dr. Art Cribbs, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, California, to promote physical activity and nutrition education in predominantly African-American, Latino and Samoan churches in Los Angeles. The program introduces Instant Recess to congregations there.


“You look around the sanctuaries and see smiles and laughter on people’s faces as they and their fellow congregants are standing, stretching and moving together,” said Cribbs, who heads a federation of faith-based organizations in California that advocate on behalf of low-income workers, migrants, immigrants and communities of color. “They’re supporting each other in an experience of laughter, joy and health.”



“Toni was amazing. There is no doubt that the success of Instant Recess can be attributed to the determination, credibility, and charisma of its messenger,” said Bastani of her friend and colleague.




“Instant Recess” is being offered every day at various campus locations. For a schedule, go to this UCLA Recreation website.


Want to see what Instant Recess is all about? Pull up a video and get moving.


See how Instant Recess has been adapted to fit into the work lives of employees at Reagan UCLA Medical Center.