Snacking isn’t usually the word you want to be associated with exercise but when used in this way, it’s quite effective. For those unaware, exercise snacking requires subscribers to complete six distinct minutes of physical activity separated by one minute of rest before each meal.
Exercise snacking has routinely made an appearance in the biggest workout roundups of the year, especially those that were optimal for quarantine. They were even lauded with charitable words from academic studies.
The benefits of exercise snacking
In addition to providing an alternative to expensive and strenuous gym workouts, exercise snaking has been studied to improve glycemic control in middle-aged adults with impaired glucose handling, as well as muscle retention in older populations.
Data has been championing shorter workout spells for some time. Recently, Ladders covered “The 7-minute workout” regimen studied to increase longevity.
From the report:
“The 7-minute workout consists of 12 high-intensity exercises (HIIT) where the person is only using their body weight as resistance. Like any HIIT workout, you will be alternating between 30-second to one-minute bursts of maximum energy (85% or more exertion level so you are basically working to the point where you want to die) followed by a brief 10-second rest period. The main appeal is that you are getting the same or close to the benefits of a longer workout but in a condensed amount of time.”
Similarly, “exercise snacking” allows for a myriad of ways to follow it faithfully. There are suggested ways to approach it, but the primary goal is to find ways to include some kind of varied physical activity into your daily routine.
“Once you start thinking that way, you start spotting all kinds of opportunities to move. Live in a walk-up? Hurry up one flight of stairs; slow walk the next. Live in a city? Speed walk for a block; stroll for the next. You can even turn grocery shopping into an exercise snack: Vary your speeds on alternating aisles,” explains health reporter, Joe Holder.
The research literature has even indicated that exercise snacking may be more effective in reducing blood sugar and in lowering blood pressure than one bout of 30-minute, daily exercise.
“The present study highlights the potential efficacy of a 28-day, home-based “little and often” exercise snacking program, for improving leg power and muscle size in healthy older adults. Along with marked task-specific improvements in sit-to-stand score, indications that maximum leg press force and power may also improve modestly with exercise snacking demonstrate transferability of the training,” the authors of a recent paper published in the Journal of Aging Research, wrote.
The strength of this regimen doesn’t survive on its physical benefits alone. For many, the biggest deterrent against habitual physical activity is all of the social trappings: exercising in front of other people, purchasing relevant gear, applying for memberships, etc.
“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” explained Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, who contributed to studies of exercise snacking, in a media release.“Let’s get people out of the mindset that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.”
This is especially pertinent in consideration of potential lockdown orders in states disproportionately COVID-19 transmissions.
“This is why I love the idea of exercise “snacks”: short bursts of exercise that you can fit into those bite-sized free pockets of your day you often don’t know what to do with. I’m talking about just 20 minutes in the morning, or 20 minutes at night, in between calls or after you get back from dinner. The idea stems from a 2014 study that showed that three smaller sessions of physical exercise (around 12 minutes each) were more effective in lowering blood sugar—and keeping it lower for longer—than one 30-minute session. This is great if you’re one of those people who can never seem to find time to work out between everything else you’re juggling. So maybe you don’t have half an hour on any given day. But I bet you do have at least two 15-minute pockets,” Holder concludes.