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Welcome to the month of February! How are those health-related New Year’s resolutions doing thus far? If you are still succeeding with your physical activity resolutions, congratulations! Pat yourself on the back and keep that same energy. Focus on your long-term goals and enjoy the journey along the way.
By the time the calendar flips to February, most people have already strayed from their resolutions. This is not a problem as long as you are only temporarily wandering off the desired path of healthy living. Fortunately, a novel approach to exercise may serve as the compass to navigate back to physical activity.
“Exercise snacking” may sound like a delightful combination of potato chips and tricep dips, but it describes breaking up one single and continuous exercise session into several smaller bouts of exercise throughout the day (Francois et al., 2014). On a daily basis, patients seen in our clinic cite “lack of time” as the main determinant for postponing or terminating their exercise regimen. This is understandable as finding an hour gap in your schedule to work out with a full-time job or school, family obligations, and life events is difficult. Somewhere along the way, it became common practice for exercise to be performed all in one session. Exercise snacking is looking to change that thinking, and the research is promising.
A recent study looked at the effects of stair climbing “exercise snacks” on cardiorespiratory fitness (measured as peak oxygen uptake) in young, sedentary adults. The protocol involved one group climbing three sets of stairs (60 steps) three times a day for three days per week compared to the non-trained group. Results showed the stair climbing group had a higher peak oxygen uptake, and this indicated improved cardiorespiratory fitness over the span of six weeks (Jenkins et al., 2019). Similar results were noted in previous years (Allison et al., 2017). By opting to take the stairs at work as opposed to the escalator or elevator, people can sneak in exercise that bodes well for their heart health.
Another study took healthy, inactive adults and put them in two groups. Both groups performed the same amount of exercise. However, the “sprint exercise snacking group” performed their bouts separated by 1-4 hours, while the traditional sprint interval training group rested for only three minutes between bouts. Cardiorespiratory fitness similarly increased between the two groups, providing evidence in favor of breaking up continuous exercise periods to achieve the same health benefit. (Little et al., 2019).
With the world growing increasingly sedentary, it has become more important now than ever to find time during your day to stay active. Think about how our activities of daily living have made our lives easier; but at what cost to one’s health? Groceries and various goods are now delivered straight to one’s door. Electric scooters have begun to eliminate the need for walking short distances from point A to point B. Streaming services grant access to a plethora of movies and tv shows from the comfort of your own couch. Our lives have become easier with many things becoming much more accessible, but we have also robbed ourselves of the physical activity that helps stave off diseases and keeps our bodies functioning properly.
Exercise snacking provides the flexibility to schedule physical activity into your busy lifestyle while obtaining desired health results. Just as regular snacks serve as a natural bridge to your bigger meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), exercise snacks may serve as a natural bridge to your bigger health goals. It serves as a great starting point for beginners or those who are looking to get back to regular exercise. Good luck on your exercise journey, and let the snacks be your guide.
About the Author:
Mark Wassmer was born and raised in San Diego and earned his undergraduate degree in Exercise Biology from UC Davis in 2013. After graduating, Mark worked at UC Davis Sports Medicine and investigated several projects, including the effects of cooling technology on elite cyclists in extreme heat conditions and the effects of an ACL injury prevention protocol on youth athletes. In 2016, he graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a Master’s of Science in Kinesiology (Exercise Science concentration) and studied the effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation vs. traditional rehabilitation on quadriceps muscle strength after total knee arthroplasty. In his free time, Mark runs a non-profit project that provides the gift of play to children in underprivileged communities around the world, with his most recent trip taking him to three orphanages in rural Vietnam and influencing hundreds of kids.
Allison, M. K., Baglole, J. H., Martin, B. J., Macinnis, M. J., Gurd, B. J., & Gibala, M. J. (2017). Brief Intense Stair Climbing Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(2), 298–307. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001188
Francois, M. E., Baldi, J. C., Manning, P. J., Lucas, S. J. E., Hawley, J. A., Williams, M. J. A., & Cotter, J. D. (2014). ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia, 57(7), 1437–1445. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-014-3244-6
Jenkins, E. M., Nairn, L. N., Skelly, L. E., Little, J. P., & Gibala, M. J. (2019). Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition et Metabolisme, 44(6), 681–684. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2018-0675
Little, J. P., Langley, J., Lee, M., Myette-Côté, E., Jackson, G., Durrer, C., … Jung, M. E. (2019). Sprint exercise snacks: a novel approach to increase aerobic fitness. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 119(5), 1203–1212. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-019-04110-z