National Instant Recess Honors Fitness Activist Antronette Yancey

Published on
May 17, 2013

Editor's Note: Antronette Yancey, a friend and adviser to our programs, died at age 55 of lung cancer. Read more about Antronette and her many contributions to public health. We also invite you to share your Instant Recess experience in the comments section of this post.

At 1 pm PT on May 7, people in offices, worksites and schools across the country stopped what they were doing and took part in an unusual kind of collective action. It wasn’t a strike or a work stoppage—far from it. Instead, for 10 minutes, we honored Dr. Antronette Yancey—poet, physician, scientist, advocate—by exercising in a way she inspired.

Toni was a towering figure (literally, since she stood 6’2”) in the field of physical activity research. She pioneered the idea of Instant Recess—a 10-minute exercise break aimed at helping people with sedentary office jobs get their hearts pumping just a little bit, and to get into the physical activity habit.

That simple idea has been proven to work as a way to set the sedentary in motion and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently funded a $20 million grant to spread the practice of Instant Recess more widely.

Toni died in April at the age of 55 after a battle with lung cancer. My colleague Linda Shak, who had worked with Toni over the years, had an idea for a tribute: Why not get a few of the people who knew Toni, and had been inspired by her work, to join together and conduct an Instant Recess in her honor? Linda put out some feelers and the responses came pouring in. Within a few days, 126 organizations nationally had committed to joining in.

We polled a few of those who participated to find out about their Recess, and to get their views on barriers that keep people from exercising in their communities and ways those challenges might be overcome. Here are some of the responses:

Deonna Armijo, physical education program teacher/trainer -- Moorpark Unified School District, Moorpark, California

Participating in this event brought both sadness and joy. I am sad that such a beautiful life was cut short, but honored to have known Dr. Yancey. She had a way of motivating people to move, change themselves for the better and make a difference in the lives of others. Because of her, Moorpark Unified School District has increased the amount of movement children participate in, 10 minutes at a time. Last week, over 30 classrooms and our district office participated in the tribute—over 900 people! 

On the importance of eating healthy food and getting physical activity, Dr. Yancey once told me that you can’t do one without the other, but that movement needs to come b

Image courtesy of Deonna Armijo, Moorpark Unified School District

Image courtesy of Deonna Armijo, Moorpark Unified School District

efore nutrition. When you exercise you don’t want to eat poorly, but if you eat right you may decide not to exercise.

I think the biggest contributor to poor health is technology and the way our lives and communities are set up. There really is no need to move. You can circle around a parking lot in your air-conditioned car for half an hour waiting for the closest spot. You can sit on the couch with your tablet and read, play games, or watch movies without getting up. We used to get our movement through our daily chores, rituals and travel. Now, our over-packed, fast-paced lives lead us to grab fast food and packaged/processed foods rather than fresh, healthier choices. The only way I can get the number of daily steps I need is if I build them into my day. I believe Dr. Yancey’s message -- if we want to make a change, we need to make movement and healthier food the default or easier option.

Instant recess it the perfect start. You may not have an hour or even 20 minutes to work out, but everyone can squeeze in 10 minutes. Recess means fun and the amount of time is doable. It’s not a hard sell to get people to turn on some music, move and have fun. It’s almost like dancing since it doesn’t scare anyone away. Recess draws people in.

As a result of meeting Dr. Yancey, the K-5 students and staff at the district office are moving more throughout the day. I personally have been changed for the better as a result of knowing her. It was truly an honor to be a part of the tribute to Toni!!!

Kathryn Smith -- County Office of Education, Fresno, California

Last Tuesday’s Instant Recess was a hit at the migrant education office of the Fresno County Office of Education. We had 24 participants and had a lot of very positive feedback. Comments like:

  • “It was just the right amount of time to get warmed up!”  
  • “Wow, I sure have to get myself into shape!”
  • “Thank you so much for setting this up. It was great to know that we were part of something much bigger, too!”
    Image courtesy of Kathryn Smith, County Office of Education, Fresno, California

    Image courtesy of Kathryn Smith, County Office of Education, Fresno, California

In the office community, we have a fairly high percentage of obesity, which may be due to ethnic food choices, lifestyles and inactivity.

I heard numerous requests to repeat and/or have ongoing Instant Recesses in order to inspire and jump-start employees to start a regular exercise program at home.

We completed the exercises with a nice, refreshing glass of fruit-infused, filtered, ice water with sliced oranges, limes and mint.

Cindy DiCello

Sports Backers, Richmond, VA

Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers is a 22-year-old non-profit sports commission that promotes sports tourism and owns and produces 13 participatory sporting events. We are pursuing a regional initiative to encourage physical activity in homes, schools and workplaces through bike and pedestrian advocacy, a corporate wellness recognition program, an annual fitness scorecard, and outreach to underserved neighborhoods.

We try to live what we preach by incorporating physical activity in our daily routines.

Image courtesy of Cindy DiCello, Sports Backers

Image courtesy of Cindy DiCello, Sports Backers

Two staff members have treadmill desks; many of us sit on a stay ball, and there are stationary bikes in the office as well as two road bikes we can check out to go to meetings around town. We have signs on our stairs with fun messages to encourage people to forego the elevator. Our offices are located on a track and we hold walking staff meetings when the weather allows. 

However, we are busy and often get stuck at our desk -- just like everyone else -- and must make a conscious effort to move throughout the day. The "instant recess" break showed how easy and fun it is to take 10 minutes out of a hectic day to do something good. 

In Richmond, there are too few places to be physically active. Based on our own survey, only 18 miles of bike lanes exist in a metropolitan area of 1.2 million residents. There are major health disparities in lower-income pockets of our community where access is even more limited. This contributes to the higher risk of obesity and diabetes that are associated with a lack of physical activity. 

We recently launched several programs to overcome barriers to physical activity. Our "Fitness Oasis" program will target under-resourced parts of the community and provide physical activity opportunities in community centers, churches, and schools such as Zumba, walking groups, training programs, etc. We also established training team locations in these communities and offer discounts to low-income individuals as a way to break down barriers and create access to what has been traditionally a pay-to-play model for our participatory sporting events. 

Liz Schwarte

Ad Lucem Consulting, San Francisco

It felt wonderful to honor Toni and to be united with so many of our public health colleagues and friends in a collective Instant Recess!

There are so many barriers that prevent people from being physically active: ready access to unhealthy foods, lack of access to healthy food and physical activity spaces and opportunities, concerns around safety, lack of active transportation, etc.

There are many creative solutions that are emerging from policy and environmental change in communities across the U.S.  One can see these changes -- farmers markets accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), bike and walking paths, parks, healthier foods in schools, workplaces promoting physical activity for employees, etc. We need to keep making these changes so that the healthy choice really does become the easy choice. 

Heather Gehlert

Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, California

Berkley Media Studies Group has been doing a daily Instant Recess since January of this year. Each day at 3 p.m., we take 10 minutes to step away from our screens and remember that moving feels good. Our moods go up, our stress goes down, and it gives us a sense of connection -- to one

Image courtesy of Heather Gehlert, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, California

Image courtesy of Heather Gehlert, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Berkeley, California

another and to our health. Knowing that hundreds took part in Tuesday's Instant Recess only magnified that feeling. 

Personally, I'm very privileged to have three parks within walking distance of my home and several grocery stores within a short drive or bus trip. My community is supportive of good health, and I try to take full advantage. I've lived other places that sound similar on paper, but one key difference that has kept me from being physically active in the past was a fear of violence. I can't check my gender at the door when I want to take a walk in the evening. It's an important reminder that the things that make it easy or hard to be healthy aren't always things -- they're dynamics rooted in power differences.