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4 Minute Fitness
an Effective Stress Management Technique
for Teachers

T he following information has been extracted from a study out of the University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Author – Krisanna Jeffery.

The full study and all references are available on request.

Contents of this Document (excerpted and abbreviated from original).
(In a hurry? Click on topic of interest.)

* Abstract
The Research Question
Teacher Stress – FEW STUDIES
The COST of Teachers’ Stress
4 Minute Fitness™ - RESULTS
Changes in Class Room Behavior
Additional Comments
Benefit Descriptors
* Discussion


This study explored the effectiveness of a stress management technique called 4 Minute Fitness™. It demonstrated how using a technique that incorporates principles of tai chi, chi kung, yoga, deep breathing and positive affirmations can make a difference in teacher ability to manage stress, remain resourceful, and participate more successfully in the learning environment. If it is true that attending more to the stress levels of teachers will create more positive learning environments, then teachers need to have some realistic methods for doing so. This study tested one method and showed positive results for teachers who did the 4 minute Fitness™ technique regularly for a month. 



Chapter 1: The Research Question

Faced with many overwhelming difficulties, such as overcrowded classrooms, discipline problems, violence, drugs, student apathy, excessive paperwork, low salaries, unsupportive parents, the changing demands of national curriculum, and a lack of administrative support, teachers are experiencing an ever burgeoning degree of frustration and burnout. (Anderson, Levinson, Barker, and Kiewra, 1999, p. 3)


How much attention has been paid to the topic of teacher stress? As early as 1980, research indicated that teachers were among the top three professions in terms of their high stress levels (Truch, 1980). Some researchers say that teacher stress has reached epidemic proportions (Morris & DeVane, 1994) and that levels of stress, which have risen sharply in recent times, are expected to get worse (Seldin, 1991). Among the negative aspects of the job are unmotivated and difficult students, decreasing resources, increased class size, and rigid administration practices (Kyriacou & Sutliffe, 1978). Other researchers have also cited lack of professional recognition (Boyle, Borg, Falzon, & Baglinoni, 1995; Travers & Cooper, 1996) and time management issues (Montalvo, Bair, and Boor, 1995) as further causes of stress in teaching.

The destructive physiological and psychological effects of stress have been well documented in medical research (Fine, 1996; Ornish, 1990). Recently, some insurance companies have stopped their health insurance plans for teachers or moved them to a high-risk category (Anderson, et al., 1999). Clearly, stress is an important issue for teachers and educational institutions to consider.   


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“We don’t just tell you what to do, we show you how to do it.

Results in just 4 minutes a day”


One of the most frequent concerns regarding stress management strategies is the lack of time available for busy professionals, like teachers, to follow through on activities that will help them take control of their stress levels. Therefore, the purpose of this research project is to explore whether or not a mere four minutes of a stress management technique called, 4 Minute Fitness ™, can make a difference in teacher’s ability to manage stress, remain resourceful, and participate more successfully in the learning environment. 


 Teacher Stress

Tunnecliffe, Leach, and  Tunnecliffe, (1986), commented that in the overall research on teacher stress, few studies have measured the efficacy of specific techniques to reduce teacher stress.

                        Interest in teacher stress is not just restricted to North Americans. In their book Job Stress, Spivey and Humphrey (1998) reported studies on teacher stress from many other parts of the world. For example, they reported that forty per cent of teachers in Japan reported mental health problems including anxiety, depression and headaches. In Great Britain, in a study of 1800 teachers, twenty percent were suffering from depression, anxiety and stress equivalent to or above that of mental health outpatients. Sixty-five per cent had considered leaving the profession in the last 5 yrs. Twenty-eight per cent were actively looking for other jobs. 


The Cost of Teacher Stress

            In British Columbia, Workers’ Compensation Board claims have been on the rise for teachers; a trend that is not occurring in other occupations (Brown, 2001). Brown reported the following startling statistics regarding British Columbia teachers:

About 34,700 workdays were lost from teachers on short-term or long-term disability in 1996. By 1999, the number had risen to more than 59,500. The British Columbia Teachers Association (BCTF) claims there are a number of contributing factors, among them increased violence against teachers, poor air quality in the schools, as well as rising stress levels that wear down the teachers. (2001, p. 2) 


With the many changes occurring in education systems today, many educators feel that teachers are fighting a stress epidemic. Published reports have suggested that teacher burnout costs billions of dollars a year through absenteeism, staff turnover, and disability claims (Frase & Coumont, 1995).

            The literature on teacher stress has produced a large amount of data on the sources and intensity of teacher stress (Borg, 1990; Dunham, 1992; Travers and Cooper, 1996; Upton and Varma, 1996). An important point to note is that much of the research to date describes the degree and causes of teacher stress and does not address the prevention or treatment of teacher stress to any extent. 

            However, one particularly interesting and extensive U.S. study conducted by Humphrey (Spivey & Humphrey, 1998, p. 50) went beyond merely measuring and describing the causes of teacher stress. His studies of stress among teachers began in the 1980’s and have been replicated at three year intervals through to 1992. He looked at what teachers actually do to manage their stress. He concluded that a startling 49% of teachers indicated that they were at a loss on how to deal with their stress. Travers & Cooper (1998) reiterated a point that has been made over and over in the literature on stress; that individuals who are unable to cope effectively with stress soon begin to show distress through emotional, behavioral or physiological manifestations. This fact points to a strong need for teachers to have specific training in stress management techniques that is practical for their busy lifestyles.

            The literature points out that those techniques that reduce feelings of stress can be either physical or mental (Kyriacou 1998). For example, mental strategies would be to change one’s perspective or use affirmations or add humor to a situation to de-stress. The importance of mental strategies was clearly stated by Roger and Hudson (1995) when they pointed out that a large part of stress is a tendency for emotional rumination, which serves to maintain and build stress and tension. They have pointed out the need to help people develop what they refer to as ‘emotion control’. Emotion control through the use of affirmations is one aspect of the 4 Minute Fitness ™ technique that was evaluated in this research.

Examples of physical techniques of stress management include progressive muscle relaxation, exercise, or physical forms of recreation. There is also an aspect of the physical type of stress management in the technique being evaluated in this study. The 4 Minute Fitness ™ technique demonstrates the possibility of combining both physical and mental aspects of stress management in one technique. 


Table 5

Teachers self reporting of any changes they noticed in their stress or energy levels




Positive Comments


Negative Comments/Suggestions



“Crawling out of bed I felt less sluggish. It helped me be present. I’m feeling quite strong.”




“I found my stress level was nearly gone most days and my energy was much better. It especially helped me during report card season to keep me relaxed and focused.”



“After a couple of weeks I noticed that my stress level was reduced somewhat. I did not mellow out completely but I found my reactions were more positive.”




“It really did put a different spin on my day. I felt more positive and capable to handle whatever the day would bring along.  I also had more energy. I was more alert.”




“I think sometimes I could remove myself a little bit more than usual. Everything has gotten easier for me. My teaching has just gotten more enjoyable. My energy is a little bit higher. ”




“Doing it kind of slowed the day and made it not so overwhelming even though my stress level hasn’t gone down because of what’s going on in my life.”





“ I have trouble standing still. I think the slow movement might aggravate my back. I really don’t know if it was directly related or not.”


Table 5 (continued)

Teachers self reporting of any changes they noticed in their stress or energy levels


“Yes, I think I find I’m calmer, take things more in stride, and am generally more accepting.”


“I didn’t really notice any changes in energy level, just the usual ups and downs.”


“Things I found onerous in the past are easier. I have a more positive attitude, less fatigue, more energy. I have a feeling (more often than in the past) of being in the moment. I’m getting more out of the moments of my day. Colors are brighter. I’m feeling stronger physically. I’m risking more. There’s a little voice inside me saying ‘I can do this’.”




“I felt more energy and less fatigue at the end of the day. There was more work that got done at the end of the workday - at home. I felt a lot more positive.”

“The weather also changed to sunny and warmer at the same time I started to do 4 Minute Fitness so although I felt a greater sense of well being, it might have been the weather. You might want to do this research again in Oct. Nov. and compare the difference.”

Changes in Classroom Behavior

Table 6

Teacher’s subjective reporting of any changes they noted in their students





Comments from teachers who did 4 Minute Fitness™ alone


Comments from teachers who did 4 Minute Fitness™ with their students




“I attempted the 4 Minute Fitness™ with all my PE classes for warm up but I continued it with the grade 1 and 2 students because they really concentrated on the moves and breathing.”


“…but I found that my reactions were more positive and therefore the students seemed to turn their behavior around more frequently.”




“I started doing it with my class when we were on a camping trip. They were excited about it. They would ask when we could do it again. It was fun and a release for them. I think the fact that they looked forward to it was huge. ”


“The class is a joy this time of year”

The same teacher reported a month earlier, “I would say that it’s not the easiest or most difficult class I’ve ever had. It’s medium in that regard.”




“I taught 4 Minute Fitness™ to my students in segments. Now we do it every day. Overall, they really like it. After we do it I feel a calmness in the air. It slows them down. The cheer at the end gets them ready for work. ”


“Well I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not but this has been one of my best classes. I know how I feel affects them. ” Same teacher who a month ago said, “Focus and resourcefulness is a constant struggle for many of my students.”




“The first few days I was doing it I seemed to be in a really good mood and issues with the students that usually bothered me seemed to roll off me like water off a duck’s back. I was more likely to joke and not get uptight about things. Because I seemed to be in a good mood the students react positively. Everyone was in a good mood.”



Additional Comments           

 Table 7

Additional Comments




Plan to Continue


Helped With Pain/Illness/Relaxing





“I think I’ll continue doing it.”

“I had a sore shoulder. It seems to have helped.”







“Simple moves are great exercise especially for those that don’t like to lift weights to keep in shape.”





“I’m sure I’m on my way to increased flexibility.”



“Definitely something that will be on-going.”





“I think it has really helped my lower back.”





“After doing it the pain in my shoulders gone.”



“I’m going to keep doing it alone and with my students.”



“I liked doing it in the morning because it benefited me the whole day. A headset tape would be nice.”


“I got sick but I plan to get back to it.”







“Since I started doing it I haven’t been sick even though I’ve been around lots of sick people. I felt very strong and well. It’s also given me a sense of inner peace. When I’m done I find a sense of relaxation.” 




“I think I’ll continue.”





“I’d like to make it a permanent part of my lifestyle.”

“It helped with chronic back pain and I have a greater sense of well being.”


 Benefit Descriptors 

            It seems clear from the data that those teachers who managed to be consistent with doing 4 Minute Fitness™ on a regular basis found there to be some noticeable benefits. When the data are analyzed to look at benefits noticed, there are three strong themes. They fall into the following categories: teachers felt more positive and present, felt reduced stress, or experienced more energy. Some teachers noticed benefits from two or all categories In Table 8 below, these comments have been organized into the three strongest themes for clarity. 

Table 8

Themes of the descriptors used by research participants to describe the benefits they perceivedfrom doing 4 Minute Fitness™ on a regular basis 



More positive/present

Reduced Stress

Increased Energy




 “less sluggish, strong”



“stress level nearly gone, relaxed”

“energy much better”


“more positive”

“stress level reduced somewhat “



“more positive”


“more energy, more alert”



“could remove myself a little bit more than usual, everything got easier for me”


“my energy is a little bit higher”



“slowed the day and made it not so overwhelming”




“take more things in stride” “am generally more accepting”


“I think I find I’m calmer”



“more positive attitude” “feeling in the moment more often”


“things I found onerous in the past are easier now”

“less fatigue, more energy”

“stronger physically”


“felt a lot more positive”


“felt more energy, less fatigue”


Chapter 6: Discussion

Overall, a high rate of participants managed to fit the technique into their day (100% the first week, 83% in the second week, 66% in week three, and 58% in week four). I found it interesting that only one participant dropped their practice of 4 Minute Fitness™ as a result of a belief that it was not a worthwhile activity. Other participants who did stop their practice mostly did so because of injury from other activities or illness. This would strongly imply that they found it valuable.

            The data indicated that 4 Minute Fitness™ was a short enough technique that the majority of participants could fit it into their lifestyles. Although only two of the twelve participants reported that they had no challenges incorporating it into their day, most participants did very well in completing their participation plan even with challenges. Three participants had serious injury or illness that got in the way of their plan but still reported noticeable benefits from the length of time they practiced the technique. Only one participant out of the twelve did not have injury or illness as a reason for why he did not complete the last week of the participation plan. He too, reported benefits from the three weeks he did practice the technique. Generally, the participants’ experience and results were very positive. 

            An interesting discrepant piece of data (and perhaps negative) involved the one participant who consciously decided not to participate past the first week because of her suspicion that the physical movement part of the technique was exacerbating her existing back problem. This speaks to the fact that there will be pre-existing conditions that would limit the use of this technique and that no stress management technique is for everyone. However, 4 Minute Fitness™ was designed to be done sitting or standing and takes into consideration certain physical limitations. 

            Several participants commented on the ease of finding time for this technique. As one teacher put it, “It was very easy to fit into my schedule due to the short amount of time required”.  And another participant who, because of injury, had to stop doing the technique in week three of the study stated, “Some days I even did it twice, it felt so good.”

            All but one of the twelve participants described positive results from doing 4 Minute Fitness™ for a month or less. The most common descriptors of their benefits fit into the following three categories: feeling more positive and present, being less stressed and having more energy.

            Why does the data show such positive benefits to participants? Of course we have to consider the placebo effect. If anyone goes to the trouble of carrying out a wellness activity they usually want it to work. And when we want something to work, the likelihood of it working becomes much stronger. So, while the placebo effect is one aspect of the dynamic of positive benefits from practicing 4 Minute Fitness™, I think there are several other contributing aspects that are worthy of note. 

            Consider for a moment what the participants were asked to do on a regular basis. They were taught to do physical exercise that moved many of the muscles and joints of the body. All the research on the correlation between health and physical activity suggests that this has numerous positive effects. Then, they were asked to focus on being present, loving, peaceful and grateful. It is hard to imagine that this could create anything but more peaceful and positive people. And finally, participants were asked to visualize positive healing energy entering into their bodies. Again, this is only likely to create positive benefits! And when teachers feel better that positive energy will naturally spill over in to their classrooms. 

            What interests me the most is that the participants actually carried through with the direction to do the 4 Minute Fitness™ technique. It has been my experience that people often do not complete their own self-improvement plans and that the sustainability of any practice over a longer period is an important issue to address.

            Dr. Jeffery attempts to deal with the issue of ongoing motivation by offering workshop participants the opportunity to receive a monthly motivational email. In this email he attempts to continue to create motivation for people to continue with their practice. He sees 4 Minute Fitness™ as a baby step toward wellness and he encourages people to continue on with more lengthy forms of tai chi and other wellness activities. But would this be enough to keep people motivated to take responsibility for their stress?

            In an ideal world, leaders in education would take more responsibility for encouraging teachers to maintain higher levels of wellness. As well, initial teacher training would begin to inform education students about stress management before they are actually expected to cope with the stress of teaching. More school districts would be starting wellness programs in their schools through professional development training opportunities.

            School administrators could provide more leadership to motivate teachers to manage their stress. For example, in one school where all the teachers were taught 4 Minute Fitness™ , the administrator arranged to play the video on the school’s closed circuit television system every morning to encourage their teachers to do the technique before school began. But many school administrators have yet to be convinced about the value of encouraging staff wellness.

            The excuse for the lack of teacher wellness initiatives is often lack of funding. But Collis (2001) points out the long term benefits of wellness programs for employers are enormous. He summed up some substantial research findings regarding wellness initiative benefits from the University of Michigan Health Management Research Center by saying, “An approximation would be that for every dollar invested a company could expect 3 dollars of cost savings or benefits” (p. 1). Therefore, in a more informed world, wellness initiatives would be seen as cost effective for school districts.

Implications and Further Inquiry

            I think that the workshop itself had an enormous bearing on the end results of this study. I say this because it was the workshop that created the value for participants to take the trouble to actually do the technique. And even though the technique is available on video tape, I doubt that the on-going participation rate would be as high without the added information and motivational pieces of the workshop itself. 

            The implications of finding a stress management technique for teachers that produces positive results are many. We can only imagine that the quality of education might benefit if teachers had more energy, and were more positive and resourceful in the classroom. But we do know that it would lead to fewer teachers becoming ill, going on disability, and leaving teaching for other careers? Some teachers in this study commented on the fact that they had more energy for their families while doing the technique. This too could have far reaching effects. 


           In summary, I felt that the study demonstrated that 4 Minute Fitness™ was a short enough stress management technique that busy teachers could practically fit it into their lifestyles. Barring illness and injury, it seems clear that four minutes a day is a manageable amount of time, even for busy professionals. As well the study strongly suggested that if teachers are willing to practice 4 Minute Fitness™ regularly, they will likely to have their stress reduced. Specifically, the signs of reduced stress reported by the teachers in this study were an increased ability to be energetic, present, positive, and calm. And these changes appeared to have positive impact on their students as well.


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