Every morning and afternoon, Patient Business Services employees at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center push back from their computers, step out of their cubicles and move, stretch or dance to music for the duration of one song.
Goofing off on company time? Yes, but that’s exactly the point of Bruin Break, a pilot program that gives hospital employees a workday recess in an effort to improve their health and morale.
"Bruin Break is a free and fun way to give employees in high-stress jobs a little respite from the challenges and demands of the workplace," said Ragini Gill, program coordinator of the UCLA Health Wellness Initiative. Nearly 150 employees in the UCLA Health are voluntarily making these low-impact, mini-exercise routines part of their workday — some on a daily basis, some three times a week.
Physical and occupational therapists follow colleague Ellen Towles as she leads them through a low-impact exercise set to music.
The pilot program was launched in June, 2012, in Patient Business Services, the unit responsible for patient billing and customer service. Currently, there are at least 10 clinical and administrative units in UCLA Health participating regularly in Bruin Break.
And the results have been tangible. During the first year of the pilot program, lost time due to repetitive motion claims in Patient Business Services decreased 86 percent among the unit’s 250 employees, while calls regarding workplace ergonomic claims fell more than 75 percent, Gill said.
"The feedback I got from staff is that they love the program," Gill said. "It has increased camaraderie. And some people said it got them started on a weight-loss program."
At 11:50 a.m. on a recent Friday, 10 physical and occupational therapists who work all over the hospital scurried to the third floor to take over an out-of-the-way corridor outside a rehabilitative services room. Chatting and laughing at times, they stretch, line-dance and swing their arms and legs for 10 minutes as directed by their colleague and group leader, physical therapist Ellen Towles.
A handrail that extends down the corridor becomes an exercise bar as the therapists bend and move, with one hand holding on for balance.
"I think everybody feels excited about this program," said Towles, a marathon runner who incorporates dance, music, core-strengthening exercises and the suggestions from the group into her routine. During the break, another colleague takes over to lead the group in a line dance. "It gets your energy and blood going, and it’s good for department camaraderie. It’s really a lot of fun, a lot of joking and laughter."
While 10 minutes of low-impact exercise may be a walk in the park for Towles, it may be more challenging for others. "So you start at whatever level you can and build from there," she said. "Maybe it’s just enough to flip that switch so that someone will say, ‘Hey, this makes me feel good. I can feel the changes,’" and want to do more.
"It gives people a sanctioned timeout during the day to have some movement and fun," said Cindy Jaeger, inpatient manager of rehabilitative services. "It’s like play."
To launch the program, managers were asked to assign "Spark Plugs," employees in different parts of the department who have the interest and enthusiasm to lead fellow staffers in a low-impact movement routine. Spark Plugs participated in a few short training sessions and received free iTunes cards to download songs for workouts.
Ragini Gill (center), who coordinates Bruin Break, with designated Spark Plugs, employees who lead the sessions. Nearly 150 hospital employees voluntarily participate.
Gill worked with the Spark Plugs to time and choreograph the workouts to best meet the needs of their particular unit. The only rule: The workouts have to be easy enough so that employees can participate without requiring a change of clothes or shoes.
Bruin Break is based on Instant Recess®, a highly studied program developed by the late Dr. Antoinette Yancy, a UCLA public health professor who gained national renown for her initiative to establish 10-minute exercise breaks at meetings, schools, churches, offices, factories and even among fans at sporting events. She was part of the Partnership for a Healthier America, a nonprofit group supporting first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood obesity.
Bruin Break also supports UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, an integrated, campuswide effort to promote healthy lifestyle choices and develop best practices that may assist other communities seeking to do the same. The multi-pronged HCI program is rooted in UCLA's long-term commitment to fostering a culture of mental and physical health and wellness.
"Bruin Break is a program I would love to see throughout the whole health system," said Gill. "My goal is to get it out to as many departments as I can."
This story has been adapted from one that originally appeared in Employee News, a publication of the UCLA Health.