Do you often find yourself full of dread and overwhelm when it comes to trying to incorporate workouts into your schedule?
If so, I’ve got some great news for you.
Let me introduce you to the concept of Exercise Snacking.
Exercise “Snacks” are short sessions of exercise, usually about 5-10 minutes, incorporated 2-3 times throughout the day.
Even though longer workouts are great (and depending on your goals, still important), it turns out that incorporating exercise “snacks” throughout the day will still provide you with many of the important benefits of exercise ranging from cardiovascular health to improved strength to better blood sugar control and improved mood.
In addition, the practice of exercise snacking can make fitting exercise into your lifestyle far more approachable and manageable and help get you out of an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to exercise.
FIRST, LET’S TALK NUMBERS
Before we get into some of the benefits and strategies for making exercise snacking work for you, let’s talk exercise numbers and do a little math to really put your exercise needs into perspective.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, with at least two days a week of moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
You could hit these numbers in a many different ways, but here are just a few examples of how you could break it down:
3, 50 minute workouts a week (moderate) = 150 minutes
5, 30 minute workouts a week (moderate) = 150 minutes
3, 25 minute workouts a week (vigorous) = 75 minutes
If you love long sweaty workouts at your gym (or virtual gym), love going for long walks/hikes/bike rides/runs, are working on specific strength or fitness goals, or enjoy the “you” time, all of these fitness breakdowns can be great options.
There is another option, however, that so often gets discounted and that is the idea of sneaking in shorter and more frequent bursts of exercise and movement throughout the day aka exercise snacking.
So, let’s break down the AHA exercise recommendations the Exercise Snacking way…
7, 12 minute workouts a week (vigorous) – split into 3, 4-minuteish sessions OR 2 6-minute sessions per day = 84 minutes
Suddenly that sounds a lot more doable, right??
Skeptical? Let’s break down some of the benefits from exercise snacking and how it should actually be considered a real deal approach to better health and fitness when you are in a time (or motivation) crunch.
It turns out that this approach to exercise not only will get you to the “right number” of exercise minutes throughout the week, but also will provide a host of other benefits.
Let’s check them out…
- STRENGTH + CARDIOVASCULAR GAINS – A 2019 study found that short exercise “snacks” of stairclimbing (3 flights/60 steps), three times a day, over 6 weeks, actually resulted in tangible strength and cardiovascular gains compared to the control group despite the short nature of the exercise sessions.
- BLOOD SUGAR CONTROL – A 2014 study showed that brief bursts of exercise before meals (In this study, 6×1 min intense incline walking intervals finishing 30 min before breakfast, lunch and dinner, with one minute slow walking recovery time after each minute of intense exercise) actually helped control blood sugar MORE in individuals with insulin resistance than a daily 30-minute workout session. In this study, this represented a 12% reduction in mean post-meal blood sugar concentration across the day and this persisted for a further 24 hours across the day following the exercise!
- HEALTH AND WELLBEING – Perhaps one of the biggest lifestyle threats to our wellbeing is how much time we spend sitting every day. Research has linked prolonged sessions of sitting to many adverse health indicators such as obesity, higher blood pressure, increased blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol levels all which can lead to chronic disease. Incorporating exercise “snacks” throughout the day can help break up the impact of the detrimental effects of sitting for long periods of the day on your body.
- TIME MANAGEMENT – Let’s be honest…many of us are busier than ever trying to do work from home, manage childcare, and cook at home more along with… everything else. If you are feeling completely overwhelmed in your pursuit to incorporate exercise into your life, I really recommend you give this concept a try and remind you that something is ALWAYS better than nothing.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL EXERCISE SNACKING
- MAKE IT A HABIT – If you are going to make this approach work for you, you have to make sure you ACTUALLY DO IT. To do this, focus on making it a habit. Maybe you stick to just one simple exercise a day, such as jump squats or stairs, for 5 minutes 2x a day. Choose a time that you will do it, pick a physical cue from your day, or set an alarm and STICK to it. This only works if you do it!
- BUMP UP THE INTENSITY – These exercise snacks are SHORT so if you want to see the best benefits, try to push the intensity. You can even mix it up throughout your “snack” session by doing 30 seconds push intensity/30 seconds easy intensity etc.
- SET UP PHYSICAL CUES AROUND YOUR SPACE – Think about recurring moments throughout the day that you are just idling about and could incorporate more movement and use them as a physical activity cue. For example, going up the stairs, waiting for the microwave, watching TV, brushing your teeth, getting on a conference call. Choose one or two and create a mental reminder that x cue = x physical activity. Example: Waiting for the microwave? Do burpees or jumping jacks for the duration.
- SET A TIMER – Make your exercise snack count by setting an alarm on your phone as a reminder and then setting a timer for 5 minutes. Don’t think, just start, and you’ll be done in no time.
- DON’T STRESS ABOUT THE DETAILS – The most important lesson from all of this is that moving MORE OFTEN throughout the day, even if it’s in smaller segments, can still provide you with beneficial results. You DO NOT need to have a perfectly written out workout circuit to start moving. Stop thinking about it, just start moving. The more you do this, the more creative you can get over time.
EXERCISE SNACKING EXAMPLES
Any type of physical activity will work, but here are a few examples for how to incorporate exercise snacking into your day.
#1) STAIRCASE “SPRINTS”
Have a staircase in your house? Replicate one of the earlier studies mentioned in this post and vigorously do 3 sets of stairs (about 60 steps), 3x a day. You could also do this at a stadium or at your workplace. If you don’t have a full staircase, you can do 60 step ups in a row on a low bench or a short staircase.
#2) OFFICE CHAIR SQUATS
Get up from your office chair and do 60-100 squats. Feel free to break these up as needed into sets of 10, 20, 30 or whatever works for you. Make sure your booty gets all the way down to your chair. Repeat 3x a day.
#3) MICROWAVE MINUTE
While you wait for your coffee to reheat, do 1 minute of jump squats, burpees, and/or lunges. Try not to take any breaks!
#4) NETFLIX + BOOTY WORK
Make the most out of your next TV binge session by getting some glute strength work in with a booty band. Check out this easy 5 move glute circuit that will get your booty burning. You can break this circuit up by doing one round, multiple times a day. The best part is you don’t even have to stand up!
#5) CBJ QUICKIE WOD*
Keep it super simple with this short and easy to remember circuit.
Complete 3-5 Rounds: 5 Pushups, 10 Situps, 15 Squats
*WOD means “workout of the day”
So, what are your thoughts? Will you try any of these workouts this week?
Let me know in the comments below and happy “snacking”!