Exercise “Snacking” 

Most days, finding the time to fit a proper workout into your daily routine can be just as channeling as the workout itself. A 30-60 minute workout may not seem like much, but when squeezed alongside deadlines, meetings, and other responsibilities, a workout can easily become a daunting task. Unfortunately, the demand for over-priced boutique fitness classes and gym memberships have convinced us that a short, simple workout “doesn’t count.” This culture surrounding fitness is not only problematic because it helps the wellness movement from being accessible to all, but because it also serves as an excuse to neglect exercise when we’re “too busy.” 

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice your busy schedule to get in a solid workout or get moving throughout the day. Fortunately, there may be an alternative for busier days when an hour-long workout is simply out of the question. 

Exercise “snacks” are short, 5-10 minute bursts of exercise that anyone can fit into breaks throughout the day. Without the need to change into yoga pants or travel to a gym, exercise “snacking” is an increasingly appealing alternative to longer periods of vigorous, scheduled exercise. Snacks could include taking a short walk between classes or meetings, foregoing the elevator for the stairs throughout the day, or taking breaks to move or stretch during long periods of working or studying. 

The concept of exercise snacking is based around the popular method of interval training. Researcher Francoise M.E. Baldi coined the term “exercise snacks” to describe breaking up a single session of continuous exercise into several shorter bursts of movement throughout the day. In a 2014 study, Baldi demonstrated that a training program involving three, 12-minute bursts of intermittent interval exercise was superior to a single, sustained daily workout for improving blood sugar control in people with insulin resistance. 

Current recommendations by the World Health Organization suggest that adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per week. Although it may be difficult to find five hours to spend at the gym throughout the week, the promising results of a recent study suggest that brief bursts of exercise can have a measurable impact on heart health. 

The 2019 study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism looked at the impact of a few minutes of vigorous exercise three times a day on cardiovascular health. The study, conducted by researchers from McMaster University and the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus in Canada, investigated the effect of stair climbing exercise “snacks” on peak oxygen uptake. The researchers asked a group of typically sedentary young adults to exercise snack three times a day by taking a break from work every few hours to climb a three-flight stairwell. The researchers monitored the cardiorespiratory fitness of the participants as they performed this routine three days per week over a six week period. The promising results, demonstrated  peak oxygen uptake of the participants, indicated that a gruelling workout routine is not necessarily imperative to boost heart health. 

When it comes to fitness, consistency and a regular workout routine is key. The good thing about exercise snacking is that it enables almost everyone to incorporate it into their day. Movement is crucial to overall well-being, and even the shortest bursts can help to contribute to overall daily energy expenditure as well as improving cognitive function and mood. While exercise snacking can’t exactly replace the feel-good benefits of an intense and sweaty gym session or workout class, finding creative ways to move throughout the day can be just as beneficial for the mind and body. 

Reference List:

Jenkins, Elizabeth & Nairn, Leah & Skelly, Lauren & Little, Jonathan & Gibala, Martin. (2019). Do Stair Climbing Exercise “Snacks” Improve Cardiorespiratory Fitness?. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

Francois M.E., Baldi J.C., Manning P.J., Lucas S.J.E., Hawley J.A., Williams M.J.A., and Cotter J.D. 2014. “Exercise snacks” before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia, 57(7): 1437–1445. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity

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