Exercise snacks: Fun-sized fitness for everyone


After you’ve worked all day, taken kids to activities, or cared for elderly parents, fitting in time for exercise can be challenging. You know you should exercise more but get in the recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week, kind of sounds even more challenging.

But what if you could take those exercise recommendations and break them down into more manageable, bite-sized spans of time?  You know, fit in a 3-minute burst of exercise and then 30-45 minutes later, sneak in another 2-minute burst of exercise and continue this pace at regular intervals throughout the day?  And what if you were told you would still be able to achieve the health, wellness, and fitness benefits like most traditional workouts?  Just maybe this more accessible and enjoyable exercise regimen would work best because you would actually do it.

What is an “exercise snack?”

Exercise snacking or a simple exercise snack has nothing to do with eating while exercising but everything to do with providing you a short, easy way to increase movement providing you with similar if not even better benefits as longer, more sustained workouts. Exercise snacks could be a perfect way to integrate physical activity into your daily life without the structure of an exercise regimen like jogging or walking three miles.

What are examples of exercise snacks?

There are so many different varieties of what is considered an exercise snack. For instance, let’s say you’re at work.  You’ve been sitting at your desk for the past three hours with no break.  An exercise snack might be getting up and going to the stairwell to walk up and down several flights of stairs for three to five minutes. Or it could be doing 20 seconds of squats or lunges or a fast 60-second run down your block.

Just remember that a snack you eat is a much smaller and quicker eating event in comparison to fixing a meal to feed your family taking up 30 minutes or more before it’s done. So instead of a planned and repetitive exercise regimen lasting at least 30 minutes or longer, an exercise snack is a quick, short burst of an activity that raises your heart rate.  Exercise snacks are also versatile. Mix them up.  For example, an exercise snack might be jogging in place for 2 minutes while the next exercise snack you do 30 minutes later might be performing 20 pushups.

Here are other examples of short-burst activities that count as an exercise snack:

  • Dance to your favorite music – 3 minutes
  • Take the stairs – 1 minute or more
  • Walk to your local coffee shop – 15 minutes or more
  • Do 10 walking lunges – 30 seconds
  • Call a friend and walk while you chat – 10 minutes
  • Walk your dog – 20 minutes
  • Do 25 jumping jacks – 30 seconds
  • Jump rope to your favorite music – 1 minute or longer

Health benefits of exercise snacks

At one time the belief was in order to enhance and improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength or flexibility, long bouts of exercise was necessary.  Now research is showing this is not true. These small sessions of quick bursts of activity do have bona fide benefits.

A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology had inactive young adults do 20-second bike “sprint snacks” in which they pedaled as fast as they could. Participants repeated these mini-workouts three times a day, each separated by one to four hours of rest. After six weeks, their cardiorespiratory fitness improved by 9% – similar to the 13% increase a second group got by doing the same sprints within longer 10-minute cycle sessions.

Another study in Medicine & Science and Sports & Exercise found that sedentary but healthy women improved their cardiorespiratory fitness by doing just 20 seconds of vigorous stair climbing three times a day for three weeks.

It’s not completely understood why micro workouts can be a good alternative to traditional, longer workouts but it appears to be a good option nonetheless.

Other preliminary research has suggested that even for office workers sitting for eight hours a day, if they were to do five 4-second cycling sprints every hour during the workday, they would see lower triglyceride levels of up to 31% and a boost to better fat metabolism.

Exercise snacks can be a great way for sedentary individuals to get moving more and are a perfect way to incorporate movement into busy days when time doesn’t allow longer exercise sessions. However, it is still recommended to aim to reach the recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-level activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity when possible and to think of “exercise snacks” as satisfying in-between micro workouts, enhancing your main course exercise routine.

Exercise snacks: Fun-sized fitness for everyone
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi