“Exercise Snacking” Is the Shorter, Sweeter Way to Work Out

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Avoiding gyms and exercising at home during pandemic illness

“Exercise snacking” is the buzzy fitness trend helping you sneak more movement into your busy schedule. If you don’t have time to squeeze a full-length workout into your day, exercise snacking gives you permission to break it down into smaller, “snackable” segments throughout the day. Think: a minute of jumping jacks, two minutes on the stair climber, or even 10 minutes of at-home Pilates. The ultimate goal is to disrupt sedentary time, get your heart rate up, and make it so that you don’t have to restructure your entire day around your workout.

Exercise snacks may seem small, but multiple studies show that exercise snacking is just as good as it sounds. Research from the University of British Columbia (UBCO) found that exercise snacking led to improvements in aerobic fitness (comparable to the improvements seen from traditional sprint interval training). More recent findings indicate that exercise snacking may also be a more favorable way to exercise, with 71 percent of participants preferring multiple isolated exercise snacks throughout the day, rather than a single structured workout.

Read on to learn about the many benefits of exercise snacking, and find out how to make it work best for you.

What Is Exercise Snacking?

On a peer-reviewed level, exercise snacking was initially introduced in a 2014 study, but its exact definition has since evolved. Originally, exercise snacking referred to brief walking exercises done three times a day with the specific intention of improving glycemic control. Now, exercise snacks more generally describe quick bursts of movement (typically between 10 and 20 minutes, but sometimes even shorter). These so-called “snacks” are often done multiple times throughout the day, with long rest times in between, breaking up sedentary behavior and making fitness more accessible.

How Long Should an Exercise Snack Be?

The exact length of an exercise snack is really up to you and your schedule. However, one 2022 study found that exercise snacks involving at least 15-30 seconds of hard effort three times a day can improve cardiorespiratory fitness and exercise performance in inactive adults, and also have the potential to improve cardiometabolic health. Examples of the exercise snacks used in this study include stair climbing and cycling. Another study from McMaster University found that intermittent stair climbing throughout the day (for a total time commitment of about 10 minutes) led to improvements in fitness and strength. Experts at UBCO say exercise snacks can be as short as 20-60 seconds, as long as you’re getting your heart rate up. Some of their suggestions include jumping jacks, lunges, push ups, and jogging. Generally speaking, the more “snacks” you can do in a day, the better — the most important thing is that the workouts are realistic for your specific lifestyle.

What Are the Benefits of Exercise Snacking?

One of the biggest barriers to physical activity is a lack of time. Exercise snacking is a way to address this head-on, helping people incorporate exercise into their daily routines without having to carve out additional workout time, or navigate the gym. Research also shows that short bouts of exercise are good for longevity. One study found that just 15 minutes of exercise a week could help you live longer. Another 2022 study from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre found that doing three one-minute bursts of vigorous activity a day could lead to a reduced risk of death. Considering that sedentary behavior increases risks for cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, cancer, and depression (among others), exercise snacking is a powerful strategy to break up inactivity. It’s also comforting know that you don’t always need a 45-minute all-out sweat session to reap the health benefits of exercise. Small bouts of movement are valuable, too. So if you’re struggling to fit your workouts in, give exercise snacking a try. It just might be the fun-size solution you needed.

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