What Is Exercise Snacking?

Contrary to what you might think, “exercise snacking” doesn’t involve grabbing a bite to eat between workout intervals.

It’s a little more nuanced than that—but still highly effective, and well within reach for people looking to get in shape or maintain their fitness. The practice breaks exercise up into bite-size, digestible pieces that even those with the greatest time constraints can enjoy.

An antidote to lack of physical activity

Currently, roughly half of American adults face one or more preventable chronic health issues. Seven of the 10 most common chronic conditions can be addressed—at least to a certain extent—with consistent physical activity. However, only 50% of adults are getting the suggested amount of aerobic exercise.1 That’s a gap that needs filling, and research indicates that exercise snacking could be the answer.2

National guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, or no fewer than 75 minutes of intense exercise. For additional health benefits, adults should engage in 300 or more minutes of aerobic exercise per week, or the equivalent of five hours of physical activity.1

This may sound like a substantial time commitment, and you might not have a consecutive hour or two to spare each day. It turns out, though, that you can break a sweat in just a short time every few hours, with expansive results.2

Short bouts of exercise can be highly effective

You might not be able to fit a 90-minute yoga class into your busy schedule, and on a workday, hitting your local trail for a long run or hike might not be in the cards. Though there are so many workout options available, it still sometimes feels like we don’t have the bandwidth for any of them.

Fortunately, you have time for exercise snacking. The term was coined in a 2014 study conducted by exercise physiologist Monique Francois, who determined that six minute-long intervals of vigorous exercise before breakfast, lunch, and dinner could help insulin-resistant people manage their blood sugar levels more effectively.3

The concept has come a long way in the last five years. Many recent studies have found that short bursts of exercise feature powerful results for cardiorespiratory and cognitive health.4

Take one study from January 2019, which found that even a few minutes of stair climbing spread throughout the day can have a significant impact. Researchers from Hamilton University in Ontario, Canada, divided 24 sedentary adults into two groups of 12, with one group vigorously climbing three flights of stairs three times each day. They would wait one to four hours between each climb and engage in this activity three times weekly throughout the six-week study.5

The remaining 12 participants served as the control group and did not exercise. The study ultimately found that the stair climbers were not only stronger, but also had better heart and lung fitness by the end of the study.5

Sounds appealing, right? If you live or work in a multistory building, you can engage in exercise snacking on your own time, without having to go anywhere but up or down the steps. And if you don’t have easy access to several flights of stairs, there’s no need to worry—exercise snacking is versatile, and you can take it elsewhere if needed.  

A sample exercise snack regimen

In England, the University of Bath defines exercise snacking as a form of structured exercise broken up into brief stints, performed twice daily with five minutes of activity and one minute of rest between each exercise.6

The University’s Department of Health has also published a short exercise snacking routine that you can perform at home, without any need for special equipment or a lengthy warm-up.6 In fact, all you need to complete these five exercises is a kitchen chair:

  • Sit-to-stands

Sit upright in the chair with your arms folded across your chest. Rise with a flat back, and then return to a seated position. Repeat the process at your desired pace.

  • Standing knee bends

Stand upright, holding onto the back of the chair for balance if needed. Raise one foot by bending your knee to a right angle, and then lower it to the floor. Repeat this motion with your opposite leg and continue.

  • Marching in place

Position your arms in front of you with your hands at waist height. Standing upright, raise one leg up to 90 degrees—until the top of your thigh touches your hands—lower it, and then repeat this motion with your opposite leg. You can move at any pace you want.

  • Seated leg kicks

Sit upright in the chair, straighten your leg at the knee, and raise it slowly before gently returning it to the starting position. Then, repeat the process with your opposite leg.

  • Standing calf raises

Stand on the floor with your feet flat, hold onto the back of the chair, and rise high onto your toes before slowly lowering your heels. Perform the exercise on both legs simultaneously and complete as many reps as possible.

Each exercise should be repeated for one minute before moving on to the next one. And while they’ll certainly get you moving, you may want to engage in more vigorous activities.

It’s important to note that exercises like jumping jacks, sprints, burpees, mountain climbers, and squat jumps are fair game as well. You can incorporate these high-intensity movements into your own exercise snacking regimen at your leisure and work out in 5-, 10-, or 15-minute “snack” intervals two or three times each day.

You might perform an activity for 30 seconds and then engage in 30 seconds of rest before moving on to the next one. No matter how you go about exercise snacking, it’s a great way to be productive before and after work, between meetings and appointments, during your lunch break, or even while the kids are napping.

That’s the beauty of the practice—exercise snacking is good for you, and it’s inherently flexible. All you need to enjoy a great workout is a small chunk of uninterrupted time.

For more information on fitness and other general wellness topics, please visit the Metagenics blog.

References

  1. Piercy KL et al. JAMA. 2018;320(19): 2020–2028.
  2. Reynolds G. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/23/well/move/20-second-exercise-fitness-interval-training.html. Accessed March 20, 2019.
  3. Francois ME et al. Diabetologia. 2014;57(7):1437–1445.
  4. Sandoiu A. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324231.php. Accessed March 20, 2019.
  5. Jenkins EM et al. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2019; doi: 10.1139/apnm-2018-0675.
  6. University of Bath Staff. Department of Health. https://www.bath.ac.uk/publications/exercise-snacking-instructions/attachments/Exercise-Snacking_Instructions.pdf. Accessed March 20, 2019.

Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team

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