If the thought of a HIIT workout or a long run makes your hair stand on end, you might want to try ‘exercising snacking’, the new movement (pardon the pun) of bitesize exercise that health and fitness experts are raving about.
Today, most of us sit at our desks all day and struggle to make the time to exercise, or we find every excuse not to go to the gym. Humans aren’t, in fact, built for intense bursts of repetitive movement. It’s a modern-day substitute for a lack of movement (unlike our hunter gatherer ancestors who would move all day in the fresh air to find food!). So let’s begin by appreciating that exercise is just one form of ‘movement’.
The Benefits of Bitesize Exercise
You may know about the immune-strengthening benefits of physical activity. Within minutes of moving around, your body starts to circulate white blood cells that defend the body against infection and disease. It should come as no surprise, then, that physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type-2 diabetes and even some cancers (1,2). In her latest book ‘Your Blueprint for Strong Immunity’, immunologist and author Dr Jenna Macciochi PhD, compares the immune effect of exercise to having a housekeeper. The more frequently they come, the cleaner the house will be. Exercise, she explains, is a housekeeping activity that helps the immune system detect and protect against bacteria and viruses, manage oxidative stress and lower inflammation. Exercising once in a while won’t strengthen your immune system, but small and often bouts of movement makes your immune system more prepared to fight off invasive germs.
Exercise snacking can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the lift, stretching whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, or power-walking to your next appointment. Professor Fedmidah Munir of Health Psychology at Loughborough University, explains that “breaking up prolonged sitting with short but frequent bouts of light-intensity physical activity (e.g. standing, walking, stretching) reduces blood sugar levels, body fat and blood pressure compared to prolonged sitting with no breaks” (3). Moving around for up to five minutes at a time throughout the day – so long as it adds up to 30-40 minutes per day – helps us reach the recommended amount of 150 minutes per week.
Muscle and Mood
Just a few minutes every day of exercise is great for balance, too. This is particularly important for people over 50, who start to lose around 1% of their muscle mass every year. A recent study by the University of Bath (4) found that in just 4 weeks, participants who were exercise snacking were able to rebuild the same amount of muscle that people at that age naturally lose over of 1 – 2 years – that’s an incredible improvement. Little and often low-intensity movement also hydrates your connective tissue, which means that when you do more intense activity you’re less likely to injure yourself.
Not only is movement a natural energy booster, but it about also boosts our mood! The more you move, the better you feel. In fact, people who meet the recommended guidelines of 150 minutes of activity per week have a 30% reduced risk of developing depression in the future (3).
Getting Started On Your New Routine
For most of us, the hardest part is getting started. Breaking down the daily 30-40 minutes into small bursts, like a ‘snack’, should make it less daunting. You can ‘snack’ on any exercise – it’s all about diversity. You don’t need any equipment, either!
The beauty of exercise snacks is there’s no commitment to an hour-long class. Most exercise classes tend to last for an hour, but this set time is more to do with the structure that we’re conditioned to live by in modern society and less about the health benefits from exercising for an hour at a time. Dr. Martin Gibala, Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University Hamilton, and author of “The One-Minute Workout,” explains: “There are proteins in the body that serve as molecular ‘fuel gauges,’ and trigger physiological remodelling in response to the stress of exercise. Brief bouts of vigorous effort can activate these proteins similar to traditional endurance training, and despite a lower time commitment.”
So, it’s less about beating ourselves up about missing a workout, and more about implementing small ways to disrupt our sedentary lifestyles. Let’s remove that pressure to commit to a workout class, and find the fun in movement!
Examples Of Exercise Snacks
(Lots of these can be done while you’re on a zoom call, or on the phone)
• Shoulder circles
• Neck stretch
• Seated lunge
• Touching your toes
• Taking a lap around the office
• Walking to your colleague’s desk instead of emailing them
• Standing up and shaking your body about
• Jumping jacks
• Dancing to your favourite song
• Climbing stairs
Consider setting an alarm on your phone to get up and move every 30 minutes, or getting a standing desk that will help to reduce your blood pressure, back pain and blood sugar.
And did you know that Lactoferrin and exercise go hand-in-hand? Lactoferrin can boost iron absorption and oxygenation, with anti-inflammatory effects that help the body to recover post-exercise. Another reason why Lactoferrin is the hero ingredient of our immune support supplement, Leapfrog IMMUNE.
When it comes to bitesize exercise, keep the big picture in mind: however you can accumulate your 150 minutes a week, every movement counts!
1. WHO (2020), ‘WHO guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour’
2. Duvivier et al. (2017), ‘Breaking sitting with light activities vs structured exercise: a randomised crossover study demonstrating benefits for glycaemic control and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes’ Diabetologia https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27904925/
3. Kerrie-Anne Bradley (2022), ‘Move More At Your Desk: Increase Your Energy at Work & Reduce Back, Shoulder & Neck Pain’
4. University of Bath (2018), ‘BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor tackles ‘exercise snacking’ at Bath’
5. Murphy et al. (2019), ‘The Effects of Continuous Compared to Accumulated Exercise on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Sports Magazine
6. Dr Jenna Macciochi (2022), ‘Your Blueprint for Strong Immunity: Personalise your diet and lifestyle for better health’
7. Cook, A., ‘”Exercise Snacks” May be as Good (or Better than) Traditional Workouts”, Blue Zones https://www.bluezones.com/2021/02/exercise-snacks-may-be-as-good-or-better-than-traditional-workouts/