By Tara Parker-Pope
Just as you might grab a handful of chips or nuts to break the monotony of your day, an exercise “snack” is a short burst of movement you can enjoy at home or in the office or outdoors. It can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. You can do it while talking on the phone or just because you want to take an hourly break from sitting in your chair. You don’t even have to change your clothes.
A number of scientific studies show that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. A recent study concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.
“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” said Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose lab has conducted several studies of exercise snacking. “Let’s get people out of the mindset that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.”
Several studies show that these small bursts of exercise can have a big impact on health. One recent study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, recruited 11 overweight men and women who were asked to sit for nine hours a day in cozy recliners, where they worked
or watched television. They were all served three meals while sitting in their chairs. One day the participants never left the chair except to go to the bathroom. On another day, they left the chair just once an hour to race up three flights of stairs, which took about 20 seconds. Among the
overweight participants, adding a 20-second burst of stair climbing to an otherwise sedentary day led to improvements in insulin sensitivity, a sign of metabolic health.
The study built on similar research at McMaster University that showed exercise snacks can lead to meaningful improvements in fitness. In that study, a dozen exercisers raced up three flights of stairs just three times a day for three days a week. After six weeks of these 20-second snacks of
exercise, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.
Dr. Gibala said the lesson from the research is that with a little effort, we can stay active anywhere under almost any circumstances — no matter how busy we are. The key to getting the benefit of brief exercise is to pick up the pace.
“You need to push it a little bit,” said Dr. Gibala. “Get out of your comfort zone. If your normal exercise is walking around the block, pick it up a little bit. As you go about your day, as you’re playing with grandchildren, as you’re walking to the bus; the key is to encourage people to do it in a vigorous manner, and that may lead to some real health benefits.”
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Try an Exercise Snack
This week, try one or more of these exercise challenges to add short bursts of exercise throughout your day.
Add exercise to your phone call: A work or social call is a great time to add some activity to your day — and the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have to know about it. Just get up and start walking around your home as you talk. If you have hand weights, do some arm exercises. Do a yoga pose or a wall sit while you chat.
Add music to your movement break: Every hour or few hours, turn on a favorite song, and dance or do jumping jacks or another physical activity.
Do the 7-Minute Standing Workout: All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes. The workout was designed for newcomers to exercise, older people, pregnant women or anyone with an ache or injury that keeps them from easily getting down on the floor or back up. But anyone can take advantage of the benefits of this exercise snack.
If you find the workout too difficult, start with just one or two exercises and add more when you’re ready. And if you don’t like one of the exercises, such as the chair push up, just switch to a wall push up instead. The great thing about this workout is that you can do it at whatever intensity level is right for you.
You’re going to do just 12 exercises: 30 seconds each with a 5 second rest in between. That’s it!
1. Start by walking in place. If you can, take it up a notch to marching or jogging in place. Raise your knees and pump your arms to raise your heartbeat. Work at your own pace.
2. Now you’ll use your chair for squats. With your back to the chair, feet shoulder width apart, use your arms to counterbalance and lower yourself to almost sitting in the chair, then raise up again. Keep a quick enough pace that your heart rate stays up. It’s only for 30 seconds.
3. Wall pushup is next. With hands shoulder width apart, lower yourself to the wall then push back out. It’s easier if your feet are closer to the wall, harder if they’re farther out.
4. Standing crunches for your core. Hands behind ears, march in place and bring your elbow to the opposite knee. Tighten your core and make sure you’re crunching your abs, bringing the upper body toward the lower body.
5. Cardio: stand and box. With feet shoulder width apart, alternate throwing punches. If you can, add a squat. The goal is cardio, so move quickly.
6. Split squats. Using your chair for balance, one leg straight behind you, the other bent at 90°, using the chair for balance and stability if you need to, drop your back knee toward the ground, keeping an upright posture. Switch legs after 15 seconds.
7. Chair assisted pushup. With hands on either side of the chair, feet behind you, lower your body to the chair, squeezing your abs and glutes and keeping your core straight and stable.
8. Wall plank. With forearms against wall, feet away, hold your body straight from head to heels. To make it harder move your feet away from the wall. Squeeze abs and glutes.
9. Stepping or jumping jacks. It’s more cardio.
10. Wall sit. Sit against the wall, back flat and arms crossed across your chest.
11. Wall pushup. With your feet away, lower yourself to the wall. Feel the arms, chest and shoulders working as you lower yourself and push back up.
12. Standing side crunch. Hands behind ears, elbows straight out to the sides. Bring left knee to left elbow, then right knee to right elbow, crunching your side muscles as you go.
Congratulations! You just completed a whole-body workout in just 7minutes!