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Try Exercise Snacks, The New HIIT For Daily Movement

Updated: Nov 19, 2023

“I know I should work out. But I just can’t find the time.”

Sound familiar? Lack of time is the number one reason many people say they don’t exercise. But recent evidence shows that you don’t need extended gym workouts or hours on the treadmill to stay fit and feel vibrant and energized.

Instead, try exercise snacks! Exercise snacks are “short, sharp bursts” of fitness activity that you sprinkle throughout your day. They offer you the same cumulative health benefits as longer workouts, says recognized wellness specialist and fitness lecturer Lauren Parsons.



Parsons, founder of the Snack on Exercise movement, is on a mission to make movement the new norm for all of us. “You can look after your whole body, boost energy and health, and fight disease,” she says, simply by using brief bouts of activity to get your heart rate up and strengthen your muscles.


Research studies show that she’s right; adding bursts of vigorous exercise, even for just one to four minutes a day, has improved fitness in test subjects.



And how will exercise snacks make you feel? Energized! Because these quick intense activities help boost your aerobic fitness and control blood sugar, your body will feel better and your mind invigorated and more focused. The learning centers in your brain will be stimulated, so you’ll feel more motivated and productive, more creative, and better at problem-solving.


Do Exercise Snacks Really Work?


You’re likely familiar with today’s general guidelines for physical activity, which recommend that adults get a total of at least 150 minutes a week ─ just over 20 minutes per day. Ideally, this weekly total includes moderate aerobic activity to benefit the heart, plus strength training twice a week for the major muscle groups.

With brief exercise snacks throughout the day, you can easily achieve that 20-minute-per-day goal.

Some experts believe that 30 to 35 minutes of brief, intense activity bursts, done separately over the course of a day, can deliver the same fitness benefits as a full gym workout or 60 minutes of moderate exercise.


So, how long should each exercise snack be? An effective burst of activity that raises the heart rate can take as little as 4 to 60 seconds. Four seconds? Really? Yes, recent studies concluded that even 4-second bursts of exercise help improve fitness.



A Word About Sitting Too Much


You may have heard the saying “sitting is the new smoking". We all sit too much, which can lead to blood sugar and cholesterol problems, render muscles unable to repair and rebuild themselves, and worse. According to Ulf Ekelund, professor and doctor of sports medicine and Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “people in modern society spend most of their day sitting, and this is linked to an increased risk for many chronic diseases and premature death”. In his research on the links between sitting and physical activity, Ekelund found that when people performed even small amounts of physical activity, they immediately began to reduce their risk of dying prematurely. And overall, the risk of dying was about 60% lower for more active test subjects, compared to the least active.

According to Ekelund, “moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity of about 24 minutes per day (168 minutes per week) was associated with the greatest risk reduction. And doing more than this did not seem to lower the risk further”. More evidence that briefer periods of exercise ─ the exercise snack approach ─ can offer sound health benefits.

“A simple public health message would be to sit less…and to move more and do it more often.” - Ulf Ekelund


What Activities Make Good Exercise Snacks?


First, be prepared to rethink your traditional concept of exercise. Exercise snacks are basically mini versions of the popular high-intensity interval (HIIT) workouts but with much longer rest breaks in between. To create your own series of exercise snacks, be inventive. Find ways to sneak in exercise whenever and wherever is convenient for you, working with what you’ve got.

Depending on your fitness level, perhaps begin with one minute of exercise snacking a day, two minutes the next, and build from there. Strive for at least 3 to 5 of these activity bursts each day. Tracking your progress will keep you motivated. The key is to discover what feels good, then build your choice and number of exercise intervals in a manageable way.

Fitness columnist Joe Holder ─ whose mantra is “Make Movement a Movement” ─ says that a typical day’s worth of exercise snacks may include, for example, jumping rope at home before work, then running up the stairs at work, and practicing yoga or stretching exercises at lunchtime and after work.


Create your own vigorous mix and grab the opportunity to work your heart and muscles at multiple points during the day.


Ready To Jump Into Exercise Snacking?


Several YouTube channels, such as UBC Recreation’s series of Movement Break videos, offer excellent ideas to mix and match brief fitness-based activities into your daily life.

Perhaps try the Standing 7-minute Workout, created by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. It requires just a wall, a chair for balance, and sturdy shoes, and it can be done at whatever intensity level works for you.



Exercising At The Office

  1. Suggest walking meetings or exercise at your desk ─ you can use digital reminder apps to remind you to jump up and get the blood flowing periodically.

  2. Use a standing desk to move around easily while you work.

    • Practice hip abductors while standing and reading at your desk.

    • Do heel and toe raises, or march in place as you work.

    • Perform air squats.

    • Try bodyweight exercises like lunges, jacks, push-ups, or jogging on the spot.

    • Do countertop or wall push-ups while you microwave lunch or wait for the coffee to brew.



Exercising At Home

  1. Power-walk around the block, or climb briskly up and down your stairs a few times.

  2. While talking on the phone, perform a yoga pose or wall sits.

  3. Work your arms by lifting small hand weights, full water jugs, or even cans of paint.

  4. When watching TV, do floor exercises or leg lifts with ankle weights.

Final Message


If your time is limited or you just hate longer workouts, exercise snacks are an excellent way to broaden your fitness options and stay healthy. You can “have a snack” almost anywhere, at any time.

So, instead of structuring your day around exercise, build fitness into your day. Snack on exercise!




 

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