Exercise snacks: A game changer for busy people? | Biolayne
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Exercise snacks: A game changer for busy people?

Exercise Snacks and Other Forms of Intermittent Physical Activity for Improving Health in Adults and Older Adults: A Scoping Review of Epidemiological, Experimental and Qualitative Studies
Jones et al. (2023)
Exercise snacks: A game changer for busy people?


What did they test? The researchers looked at the current literature on brief intermittent bouts of physical activity.
What did they find? Although more research is needed, exercise snacks seem safe for inactive and older adults and are associated with reduced mortality. Additionally, the current literature shows that brief single-set resistance training can lead to meaningful gains in muscle size and strength.
What does it mean for you? Exercise snacks can be a great way for you to tick some of your muscle and health boxes if you have an incredibly busy lifestyle.

What’s the Problem?

In our fast-paced world, where physical inactivity poses a significant global challenge, researchers are delving into innovative strategies to promote health through exercise. Surprisingly, only 21% of adults and a mere 13% of older adults worldwide meet recommended physical activity guidelines, with even higher levels of inactivity noted among those with obesity or lower socioeconomic status 1. This alarming trend not only jeopardizes individual well-being but also carries a staggering global cost estimated at around US$500 billion between 2020 and 2030 if inactivity levels persist 2.

Evidence suggests that even individuals who transition from sedentary habits to incorporating brief, energetic bouts of activity experience notable health benefits, something that we’ve also seen by looking at data on walking and resistance training for health. Even going from 2 to 4 thousand steps a day, which is really not that much walking, can have a meaningful influence on overall health and the risk of all-cause mortality. The same goes for lifting, where a mere 60 minutes of resistance training per week seems to be enough to maximize the reduction in all-cause mortality risk.

Recognizing the need for alternative approaches, researchers have shifted their focus towards understanding the impact of short, intense bursts of physical activity, aptly termed "exercise snacks”. Importantly, the duration of these activities, once believed to require continuous sessions, can now be distributed throughout the day in shorter intervals, challenging the traditional notion of exercise bouts needing to last 10 minutes or more. Resistance training and walking aside, exercise snacks encompass a variety of activities, ranging from quick stair sprints to brief bodyweight circuits or even incorporating physical activity into daily tasks like brisk walking during commuting. Their appeal lies in their brevity and flexibility, addressing the common barrier to physical activity – lack of time. With exercise snacks, there's no need for specialized equipment or dedicated gym sessions, you simply get up, do some form of exercise for a short burst and then resume whatever you were doing before.

Epidemiological evidence points to the potential life-saving benefits of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity, a form of exercise snacks 3 and associations have been found with reduced cardiovascular, cancer, and all-cause mortality, as well as lower incidence rates of major adverse cardiovascular events and cancer. Overall the cumulative impact of these short but intense bursts is believed to contribute to improved cardiorespiratory fitness and cardiometabolic health.

Despite the promising findings, exercise snacks are still a relatively novel and under-explored concept. Small-scale studies indicate feasibility, safety, and some health improvements, however, challenges such as maintaining motivation for multiple daily sessions and overcoming monotony or insufficient challenge in shorter bouts remain. Thus, the acceptability and full potential benefits of exercise snacks for enhancing physical activity and health in individuals with and without chronic diseases remain unclear.

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About the author

About Dr. Pak
Dr. Pak

Pak is the Chief Editor of REPS, an online coach and a researcher. Pak did his PhD at Solent University in the UK on “the minimum effective training dose for strength”. As a Researcher, Pak is a Visiting Scholar in Dr. Schoenfeld's Applied Muscle Development Lab in New York City. Pak's research focuses on all...[Continue]

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