Aiming to improve performance in our lives, be it sport, work or daily life endeavours, is no easy task.  We can begin to believe that we must work harder, sacrifice sleep, give up social activities, and work without breaks in order to improve.  Luckily however, this is not true, at least not in a long term strategy sense. Pushing forward full throttle all the time only leads to burnout and unsustainable growth.  In the book Peak Performance by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, the authors discover that top performers not only work hard but they rest hard too.

Below we will discuss a list of different types of rest breaks to take throughout the week in order to maximize performance.  Some of these can be used as daily habits and others can be sprinkled throughout, when time allows. The important thing to note is that they all have physiological and psychological benefits which will help you perform better.  

Walking breaks:

Walking can offset many of the hazards of desk-based work. Prolonged sitting is now considered the new smoking with many negative side effects.  Even if you go to the gym most days of the week, it does not appear to be enough to curve the effects of sitting.  On average we sit 8-10 hours of a day and the biggest problem is the lack of movement while sitting. Fortunately, the remedy for many of the hazards of prolonged sitting can be achieved with 2 minutes of walking every hour of the work day.  Tom Greene, Phd found that light activity such as walking for 2 minutes can curve the hazards of sitting even when the time for moderate and vigorous exercise is not available.

Creativity can greatly increase performance and walking is one of the best ways increase creativity.  Researchers at Stanford University measured participants creative thinking abilities during and after a short walking break away from their work station.  A staggering 81% of participants scored higher in creative thinking when taking a walk as opposed to the control group who continued to work at their desk.  Even more interesting, those who walked outside in nature, scored significantly higher than those who walked indoors (Opezzo 2014). Which leads to our next type of break “commune with nature.”  

Commune with nature:

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” -Thoreau

Being in nature has been shown to help us produce positive emotions.  The benefit of this isn’t just “a feeling of awe”, but far greater. Creating positive emotions by taking breaks to be in nature has the potential to lower inflammation in the body (Stellar et. al 2015).  More research is being conducted to better understand the health benefits of immersing oneself with nature. A review of the literature reveals the following benefits:

Immune system function (increase in natural killer cells/cancer prevention)

Cardiovascular system (hypertension/coronary artery disease)

Respiratory system (allergies and respiratory disease);

Depression and anxiety (mood disorders and stress);

Mental relaxation (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) and; (6)

Human feelings of “awe” (increase in gratitude and selflessness) (Hansen 2017)


Meditation research is showing that meditation may increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with complex decision making. Through neuroimaging researcher Sara Lazar, PhD, researcher at Massachusetts General  Hospital is studying how meditation may not only produce positive structural changes in the brain but also slow age related brain changes(Lazar et. al 2005).

Meditation improves attention and working memory. The Department of Defense has funded much of Amish Jha, PhD’s research on working memory and attention conducted on military, students, and athletes(Jha et al 2014).  

David Creswell PhD, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University studies how meditation helps with resilience while under stress and improves social relationships.  

The recommendation is a daily meditation practice in which frequency is more important than duration.  

Social connectedness

The benefits of relaxing with friends and family after a long work day or work week are enormous.  From the sports science perspective, researchers have found that post-game social outings with friends and family is one of the best things an athlete can do for recovery.  For example the ratio of testosterone to the stress hormone cortisol was found to improve with social recovery. The key is the social environment must be relaxed and best scheduled after accomplishing a long work day or work week. (Cook et. al 2014).  

©Center For Musculoskeletal Function 2019


Beddhu, S., Wei, G., Marcus, R. L., Chonchol, M., & Greene, T. (2015). Light-Intensity Physical Activities and Mortality in the United States General Population and CKD Subpopulation. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 10(7), 1145-1153. doi:10.2215/cjn.08410814

Cook, C. J., & Crewther, B. T. (2014). The social environment during a post-match video presentation affects the hormonal responses and playing performance in professional male athletes. Physiology & Behavior, 130, 170-175. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2014.04.001

Hansen, M. M., Jones, R., & Tocchini, K. (2017). Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy: A State-of-the-Art Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(8), 851. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080851

Jha, A. P., Morrison, A. B., Dainer-Best, J., Parker, S., Rostrup, N., & Stanley, E. A. (2015). Minds “At Attention”: Mindfulness Training Curbs Attentional Lapses in Military Cohorts. PLOS ONE, 10(2), e0116889. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116889

Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893-1897. doi:10.1097/01.wnr.0000186598.66243.19

Oppezzo, M., & Schwartz, D. L. (2014). Give your ideas some legs: The positive effect of walking on creative thinking. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 40(4), 1142-1152. doi:10.1037/a0036577Stellar, J. E., John-Henderson, N., Anderson, C. L., Gordon, A. M., McNeil, G. D., & Keltner, D. (2015). Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion, 15(2), 129-133. doi:10.1037/emo0000033

Daniel Yinh

Daniel Yinh


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