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'Micro-breaks' at work enhance well-being: study

By NICK GARCIA Published Sep 06, 2022 4:26 pm

Gentle reminder: Stop working like a dog and take necessary breaks from time to time, even "micro-breaks."

A new study published on peer-reviewed open access scientific journal PLOS One last Aug. 31 found that micro-breaks, or a break of a few seconds to 10 minutes, can enhance one's well-being—increasing vigor and lessening fatigue.

Those who took micro-breaks at work had 60% better odds of feeling energetic, according to Patricia Albulescu and her research team from the West University of Timisoara in Romania. They reviewed 22 previously published studies that included 2,335 participants for the past three decades.

“A meta-regression showed that the longer the break, the greater the boost was on performance," the authors said. "Overall, the data support the role of micro-breaks for well-being, while for performance, recovering from highly depleting tasks may need more than 10-minute breaks.”

Their findings, however, was less conclusive on whether micro-breaks improve work performance.

According to a report from Time Magazine, John Trougakos of the University of Toronto-Scarborough in Canada noted that the study missed an "important factor," i.e., fatigue tends to worsen over time. Trougakos wasn't involved in the study.

In any case, he said short breaks are helpful at work, and combining it with long breaks helps workers feel better and produce quality output. It also helps prevent burnout, which has already been declared as an "occupational phenomenon" by the World Health Organization in 2019.

Trougakos recommends spending about 90 minutes working, followed by a 15- to 20-minute break. A break to “get away from the task” somewhere in the middle of those 90 minutes is also necessary, as well as a short stretch break every 20 to 30 minutes, Time Magazine reported.

So what constitutes micro-breaks?

Jennifer Bramen, senior research scientist at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica in California, told local health media website Healthline that it may be in the form of squats or stretch next to one's desk.

Jen Summers of the Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health also told Healthline that intentionally standing after sitting at a desk, taking a pause to close the eyes, or taking a mindful deep breath are all examples of micro-breaks.

Petting one's furbaby, watering a plant, changing the placement of an object in the room, as well as refilling one's cup of water, tea, or coffee are also welcome, Summers added.

She also suggests the "20-20-20" technique in which an individual must look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Summers also advised the "20-8-2" rule, in which for every 20 minutes of sitting, one must stand for 8 minutes and move for 2 minutes, Healthline reported.

As Trougakos told Time Magazine, the key is one has control over what to do during the break.

But Alex Dimitriu, founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine in California and BrainfoodMD, told Healthline that it would be unwise to spend more screentime (social media, news website, online shopping) as micro-break as it could further strain the eyes.

“I think focused work should remain the priority while working," Healthline quoted Dimitriu as saying. "However, building in and enforcing regular structured break times can be beneficial.”