You may aim for your workouts to keep you “lookin’ like a snack,” but what about consuming bite-sized portions of exercise throughout the day? Can a collection of short workouts be as healthy for you as a longer one?
Here’s what you need to know about the exercise snacking trend and how squeezing in squats, push-ups, and lunges during your busy day could be as effective as hitting the gym after work.
What is exercise snacking?
While the name might conjure up images of munching your favorite corn chips while sitting on an exercise bike, this workout style has nothing to do with food.
Exercise snacking means short bursts of activity that you complete (or ‘snack on’) throughout your day. Depending on your schedule, these mini-workouts can range from 20 seconds to 10 minutes.
It’s an alternative to doing one longer 30-60 minute workout once a day, accumulating a similar amount of exercise time but dispersed throughout the day.
Are short workouts effective?
Exercise snacking is particularly effective for people who have yet to be able to make longer workouts a daily habit, especially for those looking to get fit over fifty. Much of the research around the benefits of short workouts has focussed on those in their later stages of life, as so few adults over fifty meet the current guidelines for muscle resistance training.
However, it’s important to note that if you already have an effective exercise routine, don’t give that up. Instead, save short workouts for when your regular schedule changes, such as traveling, moving house, or changing jobs, especially if you don’t have access to your usual gym or equipment. You’ll be able to squeeze in some exercise snacking around your new schedule and still maintain your fitness.
Much research on exercise snacking has grown from the interest in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) over recent years. They are similar in that both HIIT and these mini-workouts focus on bursts of exercise between periods of active rest. However, a HIIT session is usually 20-30 minutes long, plus a warm-up and cool-down.
Three studies released in 2019 contributed to our understanding of the effectiveness of exercise snacking:
- One study from the University of British Columbia, Canada, looked at the effect of completing 20-second bike sprints followed by four hours of inactivity. They found a 9% improvement in aerobic fitness in inactive adults, similar to the 13% improvement in those who completed the same number of bike sprints in a day but within a singular 10-minute session.
- In the same year, a study from Ulster University, UK, compared the effects on fitness, mental health, and risk of heart disease between two groups of walkers. One group completed three brisk ten-minute walks each day, while the other did just one brisk thirty-minute walk. The benefits were the same, aside from those who did the short workouts, who had slightly better results for body mass and cholesterol.
- A separate study from the University of Bath, UK, looked at how exercise snacking could impact muscle function in older adults. After 28 days of two sit-to-stand exercise snack sessions, the participants improved the number of repetitions by 30% and increased their leg strength and power by around 5-6%.
Following this, the World Health Organization removed the minimum time for a workout in 2020. In their Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior, WHO previously recommended that every exercise session be at least ten minutes, but recent research has shown that there is no evidence to indicate that this is more effective than shorter workouts.
How to start exercise snacking
Mini workouts are ideal for sneaking into your daily routine when you can take a five-minute pause. Do squats when you wait for the kettle to boil or brush your teeth. Get up and energetically dance to your favorite song whenever it comes on. Do star jumps while waiting for the elevator or jog on the spot while waiting to cross the road.
Speaking of elevators, if you live or work in a building with stairs, then use them instead. Climbing a few floors a couple of times of day is an effective short workout, according to a 2019 study from McMaster University, Canada.
Want to avoid getting sweaty when you’re out and about? Do five minutes of something (skipping, burpees, or jumping on your exercise bike) every time before you jump in the shower.
Making short workouts a habit throughout your day is excellent for breaking up any sedentary work periods. Author Dan Brown schedules an hourly break to do a minute of sit-ups or push-ups whenever he writes. Received a Polar Inactivity Stamp? Commit to doing a brisk walk around the block or a five-minute workout whenever one pops up.
Bingeing a show on Netflix? Hit the pause button between each episode to do some exercise snacking, and you’ll transform a long session on the couch into a bunch of mini-workout moments.
5-minute workouts throughout the day
Depending on what you need each day, it’s easy to break down some exercise into small bite-sized short workouts.
HIIT workouts are easy to curate to whatever you want. Use this no-equipment guide with personal trainer Daphne Yang to create a five-minute workout that you can repeat a few times throughout the day.
If you want a different kind of full-body workout, then Polar Master Trainer Anniina Ala-Mattinen has a five-minute home workout that you can also do three rounds at various times that work for you.
Remember to vary your short workouts with some strength and mobility exercises too. Try Anniina’s gentle but firm stretches for your ankles, wrists, hips, and core.
10-minute workouts throughout the day
It’s easy to build on your five-minute workouts if you want your exercise snacks to be longer.
Try a classic cardio circuit that works for you. Select three moves (such as lunges, burpees, and press-ups) and do ten of each as many times as you can manage in ten minutes.
Want something a little different? Johannes ‘Hatsolo’ Hattunen has a high-energy breakdancing style workout that will power up your strength quickly.
Strength coach Jack Hanrahan has some great ten-minute mobility workouts to include as exercise snacks. Do a different one each day to focus on your:
There you go – a bunch of tasty treats to snack on when you only have time for some short workouts. Enjoy your mini-exercise moments.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.