Here’s a simple and effective way to add physical activity to your daily routine during the new year: turn your exercise into a “snack”.
New research shows that exercise “snacks,” consisting of short bouts of effort spread throughout the day, can improve metabolic healthincrease resistance and prevent some of the unwanted changes in our muscles that occur when we sit for a long time.
“It’s a very hands-on approach” to physical activity, said Daniel Moore, an associate professor of muscle physiology at the University of Toronto in Canada, who led a 2022 study of exercise snacks and muscle health.
The physiological benefits of activity snacking may rival those of much longer bouts of brisk walking or other traditional exercise, science shows. And they come in a variety of flavors, from stair climbing to unobtrusive office chair squats. These “snacks” don’t require a gym, special shoes, or other equipment; office attire is optional and the time commitment is minimal.
But to get the most out of exercise snacks, it pays to understand where, when, and why you should take these breaks.
By definition, an exercise “snack” is a short bout of exercise, usually lasting a minute or two, repeated many times throughout the day. It represents “a feasible, well-tolerated, and time-efficient approach,” according to a 2022 review of exercise “snacking” research.
Small in size, exercise snacks, when stacked, can be quite powerful.
In a revealing 2019 study, healthy college students exercised by running up and down three flights of stairs three times a day — in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the late afternoon — nearly every day for six weeks.
They did not do any other type of physical exercise. But after six weeks, they gained significant amounts of aerobic capacity and leg strength.
Similarly, when some of the same researchers asked people to ride a stationary bike in a single 10-minute session of intense interval training, or to show up at the lab every few hours and pedal hard for about a minute, the groups of conditioning gains were nearly comparable after six weeks.
The exercise “snacks” were just as effective as a longer, more traditional workout.
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Exercise “snacks” and sitting time
Exercise “snacks” can be particularly effective in countering the evils of sitting too long.
Several studies have reinforced the idea that we should spend less time sitting. In a famous 2008 study, people who sat for hours developed memory problems. cholesterol and blood sugar at much higher rates than people who got up and moved around frequently, no matter how much the volunteers exercised.
More recently, researchers have discovered that the drawbacks of prolonged sitting to metabolic health can be so severe that they negate nearly all of the health benefits of a daily workout.
But taking “snack” breaks can disrupt your sitting time. Moore highlighted this idea in a 2022 study he conducted, during which 12 healthy young men and women sat all day with almost no interruptions except to go to the bathroom while he and his colleagues monitored how their muscles used their protein. in the diet.
Previous research had established that prolonged inactivity is a challenge to the muscles. In a 2019 study, young men who cut back on their normal daily steps for a week quickly developed substantial reductions in their muscles’ ability to absorb and utilize amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
Without enough amino acids, muscles cannot repair and build effectively.
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In Moore’s study, just one day of continuous sitting resulted in leg muscles being less able to absorb amino acids, according to molecular markers added to the protein powder consumed by the volunteers.
But over the next few days, when the same volunteers took a break from sitting time by walking for two minutes every half hour or performing a short set of chair squats — rising from the chair, standing on tiptoes to activate leg muscles, returning to the seat and repeating the movement 15 times – their muscles were better able to absorb and incorporate amino acids from the bloodstream.
This finding is “important,” said Brian Carson, an exercise scientist at the University of Limerick who studies “snacking” but wasn’t part of the research, because it shows quick sessions can undo some of the drawbacks of sitting. too long and also that walking and squatting worked just as well as “snacking”.
It “increases the pool of options for people” who would like to do these quick sessions, he said.
Office squats or jumping jacks?
To try training with exercise “snacks” this year, first consider which ones might best suit your schedule and tastes. Go upstairs? Two minute walk down the hall? Fifteen chair squats? Maybe a dozen jumping jacks with the office door closed?
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“Nearly any activity that gets you up and moving” can be a “snack” exercise, Moore said. Ideally, the activity should get your heart rate and breathing up, last a minute or two, and happen often, preferably every half hour if possible. Eat these snacks instead of or in addition to your usual workouts, he added, depending on your level of readiness and inspiration.
So, in 2023, perhaps we should be hopping more in our cubicles, pacing our living rooms, or hunkered down in the back of planes on long flights.
“What’s especially great about exercise snacks,” Moore said, “is that it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re wearing.” You can have exercise “snacks” almost anytime, anywhere. / TRANSLATION BY RENATO PRELORENTZOU
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