No one can deny that exercise is an important part of health and fitness, particularly if you’re hoping to shed some pounds. What you eat may be the most important driver, but the right exercise plan can jump-start your attempts to slim down and shape up.
One of the most common excuses that people use for why they fail to exercise regularly is lack of time. Most of us have jobs, families, and other obligations that quickly eat up the available hours that we have each day.
Trying to squeeze in a workout in between out other important activities can seem impossible at times. Luckily, new research seems to indicate that small bouts of exercise can be equally as, if not more, effective as longer workouts.
What is Exercise “Snacking”?
Unfortunately for those of us who love to eat, exercise snacking doesn’t involve adding treats to your exercise regimen.
The idea behind this new fitness craze is that instead of setting aside 30 – 60 minutes every day to exercise, you instead fit your bouts of exercise into your day in “bite-size” pieces.
In other words, exercise snacking, also known as “sprint endurance training” (SIT), asks you to occasionally take a short break from your daily activities to perform a bit of physical activity.
One of the most popular exercise snacks involves staircases. If you work in an office building, chances are that you have a few staircases that you usually avoid by heading to the elevator
You can use these staircases to get a short bout of exercise. A few times each day, stand up from your desk and head to the staircase. Walk or jog up the stairs at a brisk pace, and then return to your desk. It’s as simple as that.
One group of researchers asked a sample of adults working sedentary jobs to do this three times each day, three days per week, for six weeks. The research concluded that the exercise improved participants’ oxygen intake, suggesting that exercise snacking has the potential to significantly improve their cardiovascular function.
Does Exercise Snacking Really Work?
The initial research on exercise snacking is promising to say the least.
Another study, similar to the one described in the previous paragraph, asked a group of sedentary women to regularly climb stairs instead of using a more traditional endurance-based exercise program. The results mirrored those of the other study, demonstrating that these small bouts of exercise can make a major difference in cardiovascular health.
This is an important finding, as cardiovascular issues have been proven in numerous studies to be one of the most devastating killers in the world. In fact, one study indicated that poor cardiovascular health is the top indicator for just about every form of non-accidental mortality. This is of particular concern for individuals who are middle-aged or elderly, as physical activity and overall health tend to decline with age.
According to statistics, only about 40% of adults in these demographics currently meet the current standard guidelines for aerobic fitness. For these individuals, performing short bouts of exercise throughout the day can potentially make a big difference.
However, SIT isn’t just about cardiovascular health. There are other important benefits that should not be overlooked. For example, individuals with insulin resistance who practiced some form of exercise snacking before eating their meals were found to have more stable blood sugar throughout the course of the day.
Another study, published by the Journal of Aging, examined the effect of SIT on older individuals. In particular, the study sought to determine whether exercise snacking could make a difference in muscle strength and composition among older populations. Researchers found that after engaging in a SIT program for 28 days, the individuals in the study did see an improvement in health scores relating to muscle strength, particularly in their lower bodies.
Even if you are already in pretty good shape, SIT can be beneficial to your overall fitness. According to research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, runners who performed short sprints throughout the day with several hours of recovery in between saw improvements in the cardiovascular fitness and even their running times.
How to Perform Exercise Snacks
According to the proponents of SIT, the key to creating an effective program of exercise snacking is performing physical activity that is significantly more vigorous than your typical activity level.
This means that if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, taking a brisk walk up the stairs can be enough to see the benefits. However, if you are less sedentary throughout the day, your exercise snacks will need to reach a higher level of intensity to be effective.
Much of the research performed on SIT focuses on walking, jogging, or running up staircases as an easy method for exercise snacking. Stairs are an excellent tool for this type of exercise; most of us have easily accessible staircases and climbing them is one of the best ways to increases your heart rate, especially if you do so vigorously. However, stair climbing isn’t the only way to get your bite-sized bouts of activity.
Do Jumping Jacks in Your Office
If you have a private space where you can spend a few minutes during the workday, stand up 3-4 times each day and perform a simple exercise to get your heart rate up. Jumping jacks, high knees, and squat-jumps are all great options. Try mixing them up throughout each day to work different muscles and decrease boredom.
Turn Chores into a Workout
Household chores are one of the many things that eat up our schedules and get in the way of our exercise routines.
Try using those monotonous chores to your advantage by turning them into exercise opportunities. You can:
- do lunges while vacuuming
- do standing pushups against a kitchen counter while cooking
- do squats while talking on the phone
These are only a few examples. When you’re on the lookout for opportunities, just about every chore can be turned into an exercise routine.
Park a Little Further Away
Most of us are used to circling the parking lot to find the space that is the closest to the door. However, you can turn this frustration into a SIT workout simply by parking your car in a space toward the back of the lot.
If you’re normally pretty sedentary, this little bit of walking can actually have a significant impact. If you’re just getting started in your fitness journey, try finding reasons several times each day to stand up and walk for a minute or two. This little bit of movement is all it takes to get you on the right path.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a burden. Some people believe that if they don’t have time for a full workout, there’s no point in exercising at all. However, the research surrounding exercise snacking indicates that a little can go a long way.