Escaping the Afternoon Dregs

by Rich D. (contributor)

All Work and No Play Makes Johnny a Dull, Sick and Unproductive Boy

Delicious but debilitating, school lunches cut me like a double edged sword. Sure the meals satisfy my hunger, but afterwards I find my energy zapped, eyelids heavy and concentration rendered impossible. The bell chimes and I drag myself to class, a zombie in a brain-fog, lacking both energy and motivation. Welcome to the afternoon dregs.

For years the vicious cycle repeated; eat lunch, take a break, join the walking dead. But I found the antidote. Now I attack afternoon classes with renewed vigor. All it took was a return to recess and the magic cure my students dubbed “Sasuke.”

Have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking. Research claims even active people suffer the ill health effects of prolonged sitting, including the eerily termed early death or preventable shortened lifespan (

While these reports seem obvious, physical activity’s benefits on mental performance surprised me. Research shows that children who take part in daily physical activity show improvements in both physical and mental health, including academic performance (

But the studies didn’t end with children and reports that active adults reap similar benefits have inspired businesses to incorporate exercise breaks into their workers’ schedules (

girl with migraine
Credit: Sasha Wolf

Give Me a Break?

Despite these findings, I chose to relax at my desk during my afternoon break. A full schedule has me on my feet all morning and my instincts told me to sit down. What started with checking email or working on lesson plans leads to heavy eyelids and occasional naps.

The thought of more physical activity struck me as counter-intuitive. Wouldn’t it just make me more tired? Sleepier? Less effective come class-time?

Credit: janeb13

Back to Recess

Credit: WalkingGeek

Then one April afternoon, spring arrived in force. The cold, dark of winter disappeared, replaced with chirping birds, a warm breeze and irresistible sunshine. Somehow I mustered the courage and energy to go outside; a choice that would forever change the course of my afternoons.

Spring fever had infected the entire school and I found the playground a mass of activity. I dodged the dodge-ball games and ran from children playing tag, zig-zagging my way to the monkey bars.

“It’s been a while since I did pull-ups,” I thought gripping the bar. Before I could count two reps, students surrounded me.

“Wow! That’s great! How did you do that?” A few pull-ups sparked their awe and curiosity.

Before I could blush, a boy jumped up and grabbed the bar. “I’m going to try!” he said rising a couple of inches before his body froze and his progress halted. I held his waist and helped him pull his chin over the bar. One by one the students tried and succeeded, with some gentle support.

The bell rang and I hurried to my next class. My arms burned and sweat dampened my shirt. But I felt genki; supercharged with no sign of brain-fog, feeling more superhuman than zombie.

The Magic Cure

Since that fateful spring day I’ve shrugged off my lunch break for outdoor recess. The students dubbed our activity “Sasuke,” a homage to the popular TV show that has contestants jump, climb and crawl over and through all sorts of obstacles. I enjoy watching their progress and they delight in showing off new techniques they invent.

No matter how deep I fall into the post lunch dregs I hit the playground and return from recess a different person – mentally sharp and physically refreshed.

So if your lunch break leaves you feeling like a zombie, jump start your afternoons by getting out, getting active and discovering your own “Sasuke.” Just a few minutes of “recess” might be the miracle cure you’re looking for!

guys on monkeybars
Credit: Tough Mudder

About the Author

Although Rich started as a “casual” runner back in the USA, a move to Japan that coincided with Japan’s marathon-boom awakened the true runner within. Now, the self-proclaimed running otaku’s passion for motivational manga is only surpassed by his quest for interesting and challenging events around Japan; a quest that takes more travel, time and money than he’d like to think about.


“Long sitting periods may be just as harmful as daily total.” ScienceDaily, Columbia University Medical Center, 11 Sept. 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.
Shingo, Ito, and Peter Brieger. “Workers limber up during office breaks with monkey bars, radio drills.” The Japan Times, 19 June 2017, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The association between school based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2010.