Need a Break? New Research Agrees with You

Who hasn’t been there….working on a long project for school or work logging more than 4 or 6 hours straight in front of the computer.  That’s a long time!  And it may not catch up with you until you hit the 8th hour, or you’re out of you’re 20’s, but eventually the aches, pains and crankies of long day at the office or school can take it’s toll.

The adverse health effects of long stretches of sitting have been well documented and reported.  According to Canadian research reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine, in our modern lives more than half of the average person’s waking hours are now spent sitting: watching television, working at a computer, commuting, or doing other physically inactive pursuits (, 2015).  Studies have shown that people who sit for prolonged periods of time have a higher risk of dying from all causes — even those who exercised regularly – and the negative effects of sitting are more pronounced in people who did little or no exercise (Corliss, 2015).

Now, additional studies show that breaks from sitting can have other beneficial effects on our health aside from physical – they can positively impact our mental health as well.  Research from Baylor University published in the Journal of Applied Psychology has shown a link between taking breaks at works and other important outcomes including:

  • higher job satisfaction
  • reduced emotional exhaustion
  • higher rates of energy and concentration

For this study, breaks were defined as any period of time during the workday in which work-relevant tasks are not required or expected, including but not limited to a break for lunch, coffee, personal email or socializing with coworkers, but not including a bathroom break (Eckert, 2015).

The study surveyed 95 employees from a single organization and was not able to pinpoint the optimal number or length of breaks, but it did find that timing is important.  Mid-morning breaks were most productive in terms of replenishing energy, concentration and motivation, as were more frequent short breaks as opposed to only one long break.  And the more hours between breaks, the less energized and the more symptoms of poor health workers reported when returning to the job (Pallarito, 2015).  Meaning, breaks later in the day can’t help compensate for a full morning of uninterrupted sitting or working.

So before you work another 4, 6 or 8 hour stretch with no break other than to refill your espresso, think about it.  Breaking up each long stretch may be not only more productive, but better for your physical and mental health in the short and long run.