Give them a break, no, really..

If you have ever been in one of my classes or workshops, you may have seen something a little weird. About every 45 minutes, I am going to ask if there is a coach in the room..Then, we all get up and do some type of synchronized stretching. We also might use a web based exercise program designed for students (e.g., Go Noodle, Cosmic Kids Yoga). We don’t go for more than about three minutes. At about 1:30 minutes, we start looking for a break. I am sure my students think this is all a little strange…But it’s for a reason.

Image of dog taking a nap

Image from Flickr

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Tony Schwartz and Jim Loher argue that we do not manage our time, we manage our energy. They shared research findings that our bodies go through ultradian rhythms about every 90 minutes. During the first part of the cycle our bodies increase in:

Heart rate

Hormonal levels

Brainwave activity


Muscle tension

Between 90 and 120 minutes, our bodies begin to show signs of needing rest and recovery. These signs include:

Yawning and stretching

Difficulty concentrating

Increased tension

Desire to procrastinate or fantasize


Making more mistakes

We can override our bodies’ signals, but it costs us. Ignoring the signs or turning to caffeine kicks in the bodies’ fight or flight response. The effect of releasing stress related hormones into our bodies include:





Self-absorption and insensitivity to others

Interestingly, researchers conducted a study (link to study) using exercise for students with emotional and behavioral disorders and other disabilities. About every hour, the students were provided with some type of short exercise break (e.g., yoga pose, jumping jacks). They also were provided with two longer exercise breaks. The students decreased their problem behavior to zero or almost zero over the course of  the study.

In another example, a Vermont high school gives their faculty and students a 15 minutes recess each day. The faculty and students developed a list of activities for their community. They report that this time provides a much needed break, and opportunities to make connections between students and faculty. See this short video example their work (link to video). Interestingly, their school has very positive outcomes.

The Power of Full Engagement describes how the highest ranked athletes purposely include mental and physical breaks in their schedule. For example, Jimmy Connors, the famous tennis player, shared that he would never think about the match between points. This allowed him to recover and maintain focus over a longer period of time. If breaks help professional athletes, I wonder what it can do for our students and staff? Are you ready for break? Are there ways you are incorporation breaks in your schedule now?