Researchers: These small ‘snacks’ can improve your heart health

It’s time for you to start nibbling toward your fitness goals … one stair at a time. 

A lot of us want to be healthy, but sometimes life seems to get in the way. We can’t find 45 minutes each morning to go to the gym when we already have so much on our plate, and it’s hard to take care of ourselves the way we want.

But there is good news, and lots of it! We recently learned that less intense exercise, like walking 30 minutes a day, helps us live longer. And now, we’re finding out that even small spurts of vigorous exercise can improve heart health.

This latest revelation comes from researchers at McMaster University and University of British Columbia, Okanagan, who asked sedentary young adults to try a minor lifestyle change for their study. As a control group sat around doing no exercise, the test group vigorously climbed a three-flight stairwell three times a day, with each interval divided by between one and four hours of recovery. Participants repeated this activity three days per week for six weeks.

These little bursts of exercise were adorably labeled “snacks” and probably sound far more enjoyable than they were for those doing them.

So what happened? Well, it turns out that even these spurts of exercise — climbing 60 steps — were enough to improve “cardiorespiratory fitness, although the absolute increase was modest,” according to the study.

“We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective,” Jonathan Little, assistant professor at UBC and study co-author, said in a press release. “Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”

That means that if we just forgo the elevator for the stairwell a few times a week, we’ll be that much healthier (and save electricity!).

“The findings make it even easier for people to incorporate ‘exercise snacks’ into their day,” Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster and senior author on the study, said in a press release.

I never thought incessant snacking was a good thing, but now I’ve learned to see the word in another light. Time to start nibbling toward our fitness goals, one stair at a time.

Alexandra Villarreal|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at avillarreal@theladders.com.