FierceSnowJoyWith the frazzle dazzle of the season, we’re often stressed and doing our shopping, eating and exercising on the run. OK, let’s be honest; sometimes we don’t do our exercise at all, while eggnog and second helpings pile on the pounds. Who can blame you for grabbing an extra Christmas cookie when holiday obligations are fraying your nerves.

Not to worry. There are fun, quick ways to get your exercise and lower your anxiety level with a return to recess. Yes, that recess.

Remember when you couldn’t wait for the school bell that signaled you and your classmates could bolt out the door and run wild for a good 20 minutes? So did UCLA professor Antronette “Toni” Yancey. Though she passed away at 55 earlier this year from cancer, people continue to celebrate her visionary idea and her amazing legacy of fitness and fun. A self-proclaimed “active-ist,” physician and poet, Yancey tapped into our collective nostalgia to reignite our enthusiasm for those childhood years when we loved to run, jump and zip across the monkey bars faster than a cheetah.

Instant Recess® continues to catch on. At the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center’s Rehabilitation Department, 10 groups — from administrators to physical therapists to the “lift team” (as in lifting patients) — take daily Bruin Breaks, inspired by Yancey and named for the school’s brown bear mascot. Word of her idea spread as she promoted her 2010 book, Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time. Along with friend and colleague Melicia Whitt-Glover, Ph.D., Yancey researched the impact of Instant Recess from elementary through high school, while being a major cheerleader on the value of cutting loose or just taking a break for adults as well. Their work continues to reverberate.

An Ohio church created the “Jesus Shuffle” line dance; a professional San Diego baseball team began to offer bursts of exercise for kids and healthier concession foods for all; while a manufacturer of outdoor gear created a “Recess Is Back” initiative, for which Yancey served as a consultant. The idea spread like a wild seed to hundreds of other companies.

“One of her unique contributions was coming up with ways to address and prevent obesity that were simple, practical things you could do everyday,” says Michelle Levander, director of USC Annenberg’s California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, for which Yancey served as a board member.

The late Antronette "Toni" Yancey founded Instant Recess®  to encourage children and adults to go out and play.

The late Antronette “Toni” Yancey founded Instant Recess® to encourage children and adults to go out and play.

Levander recalls first meeting Yancey during a training session for ethnic media. “She would have people who weren’t particularly slim lead Instant Recess sessions, and get everybody moving. … Some of the people in the room were really heavy, like 300 pounds. But when Toni said, ‘Everybody get up,’ and started the music, it was fascinating to see people who clearly looked like they weren’t exercising regularly participate with a big smile on their faces.”

Another healthy aspect of Instant Recess is that it injects a dose of play into our lives, which some say is just as important for adults as it is for children.

Playing together helps couples rekindle their relationship, facilitates deep connections between strangers and cultivates healing, according to author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, M.D., who wrote the book Play and founded the National Institute for Play.

Yancey knew that fun was the best way to hook people into exercising. Her innovative insights have been spread far and wide. “Toni made the healthy choice the easy choice,” Whitt-Glover says. “She started with that end in mind and threw down the gauntlet for people doing public health research, forcing them to think about the people they’re serving.”

She made exercise an activity you could simply hop up and do, as easily as we once darted out the door to play kickball or tag. “Unlike the negative feeling people often connect with exercise,” Yancey once said, recess “captures the idea of fun and stress relief and exuberance, linking that with physical activity.”

As a kid, she recalled, “even if you weren’t an athlete, you went out and ran around.”  So this season, take a little time to get fit and have some fun!


Ready for Instant Recess?

Sometimes we don’t exercise because we feel we don’t have the time, or it doesn’t rank as high as other priorities on our to-do list. But if you don’t shake your groove thing, who’s gonna shake it for you? Plus, in our community we have too many people going down for the count because of lifestyle choices that lead to preventable illness. (Step away from the fried food, and fewer people get hurt.)

So in addition to giving your diet a 2014 light-and-lively overhaul, consider mixing in Instant Recess. It’s fun and can help you Cupid Shuffle your way towards weight loss goals. And when you get moving for a brisk 10 minutes two or three times a day, you’ll find that sweet potato pie is not the boss of you. Get going, enlist a friend and keep it playful:

■ Meet up with a colleague (or a few), and dance to high-energy songs.

■ Do old-school activities such as Hula-Hooping, jumping rope (single or double Dutch), or grabbing chalk at the 99-cents store to get a game of hopscotch or four square going in the office parking lot.

■ Play pretend baseball or tennis, simulating the strokes. You can also do it with a Wii.

■ If you’re having a white Christmas, consider cross-country skiing, ice-skating or just a brisk walk in the snow.

■ Find Instant Recess videos, some led by Yancey, online and join the movement. Here’s one to try.