We’ve all heard the advice: move more, eat less.
Your friend Linda does 30 minutes of cardio per day, every day, for optimum health.
Your neighbor Carl jogs by your window a few evenings each week, as lean and fluid as a gazelle.
Where do they find the time? Between work, volunteering, kids, grandkids, social functions and keeping up with the latest Netflix series, you can’t seem to manage a morning stretch let alone a full-blown hour of Zumba.
If you’re short on time or even endurance, “exercise snacking” may be just the fitness tip for you!
What is exercise snacking?
Exercise snacking is performing movements in short bursts throughout the day. You can engage in an exercise snack multiple times per day, and before you know it, you’ve completed 30 minutes of heart-healthy exercise. An exercise snack is simply a break for your body from sitting or being sedentary. You move around. You don’t even need to get up out of a chair! You can tap your foot, do a short chair yoga exercise, stretch or do leg/arm lifts while seated.
In a 2019 article in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, researchers explored whether or not short bursts of stairclimbing could increase participant cardiorespiratory fitness. With two groups, both of whom were sedentary and one of which was then prescribed stairclimbing exercise snacks, researchers got to work. It turns out many Americans have low cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) due to inadequate amounts of daily exercise. When the sedentary group prescribed exercise snacks was tested after, their CRF was 5% higher than it was before. So, short bursts of exercise can improve cardiorespiratory health as well as other health measures. Exercise snacks have been shown to help with insulin resistance, brain health and evenprevention of cancer.
The US Department of Health and Human Services notes, “Physical activity can also preserve physical function and mobility, which may help maintain independence longer and delay the onset of major disability.”
There are so many wonderful reasons to get up and get moving.
How many exercise snacks do I need per day?
The CDC recommends seniors engage in roughly 30 minutes of activity, 5 days per week to help keep our bodies and brains fit and healthy. This breaks down to 3 10-minute exercise snacks each day, 5 days a week. It might be possible to do this every day, in fact, since the exercise is woven throughout the day. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends seniors try to work up to 300 minutes per week, which means roughly 60 minutes per day, 5 days a week.
If this seems like a lot, remember: you can work up to it! If you are currently sedentary most of the day, add one exercise snack to your day to begin. Over time, you’ll be able to add another and still another. Before you know it, you’ll be snacking your way to better health.
What ‘counts’ as exercise?
It may be much easier to embrace exercise if we don’t think of it in such a one-dimensional way. Exercise isn’t just a run on the treadmill, an hour of dance aerobics or a weight-lifting session. It can be stretching, gardening, playing with our grandchildren, climbing the stairs or sweeping the floor.
According to BlueZones.com, some of the healthiest places on the planet naturally incorporate exercise snacks in their lifestyles, which they prefer to hitting the gym for a solid hour each day. Alisa G. Cook writes, “In Ikaria, homes are built into the hills, with many stairs to get from one part of the house to another. Likewise, climbing stairs, with groceries, is a daily activity. Mixing food by hand versus a blender, or sweeping versus sending the vacuum robot out to do its thing. Gardening requires digging into the dirt, sowing seeds, weeding, and harvesting—all done manually in Okinawan kitchen gardens. In Sardinia, shepherds walk up to five miles per day in the fields. Loma Lindans take nature walks with their families. Centenarians from Nicoya seem to have enjoyed physical work all of their lives and find joy in everyday physical chores.”
Don’t necessarily think in terms of exercise as much as you think in terms of movement.
Standing up to prepare lunch, slice fruit and mix yogurt is movement.
Taking the laundry from the dryer and standing to fold it is movement.
Sweeping the back porch and bending over to collect leaves is movement.
We can move in many ways throughout our day, and when we make the conscious effort to do so, we are engaging in the exercise snacks that help us maintain muscle tone, balance, good mental health and healthy hearts.
Also, don’t shy away from more organized exercise as a snack. Just because you’re not jogging a mile doesn’t mean jogging around the block doesn’t matter. It adds up! This is the beauty of snacking.
There are many free exercise videos online for ten-minute and even five-minute options. Yoga is a great exercise to perform as a snack. Yoga with Adriene (a popular online yoga instructor) offers this 15-Minute Morning Yoga as an option.
How can I start incorporating exercise snacking into my daily routine?
First, if you have been sedentary for some time, you might speak with your doctor about your goals and intentions. If you have health conditions that limit movement, your doctor can help you choose the best exercise options for snacking.
Then, begin moving slowly, one chunk at a time. Remember the old adage:
How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Take exercise snacks one bite at a time. Set a timer while you read, and after a half-hour or so, get up and move to another part of the house. Do a small chore. Go outside and walk to the mailbox. Work your way up to a short walk around the block.
If you’re already in the habit of exercising but finding yourself short on time, don’t scratch an entire day if you couldn’t get to the gym. Stand up from your desk and do a little desk yoga or stretching before lunch. Take the stairs or park further away in a parking lot. We’ve all heard these suggestions for years but understanding the concept of exercise snacks helps us understand why these tips are so helpful when they’re added together.
Think about the times during your day when you sit for the longest periods. Then, consider how you can break that up. Can you take a water break and walk around the office? Can you schedule a few gardening breaks throughout the day? Can you do household chores for 10-minute intervals?
Finally, give yourself a little extra time throughout the day for working breaks into your routine. Instead of going from one appointment to another, giving yourself an extra ten minutes means you have time to take the long way, park further out, stretch or simple wander the grocery store aisles instead of popping in and out without a moment to spare.
Exercise snacking helps many of us avoid the all-or-nothing mentality of fitness. Rather than focusing on a full hour workout or getting to the gym for a cardio dance class, we can fit exercise into our daily schedules and the rhythm of our lives. Just 5 to 10 minutes of movement can make a marked difference in our health and wellbeing. From increasing our cardiovascular health to balancing our moods, movement is good for us from head to toe,
Be sure to check with your physician before beginning any exercise program, even a short ten-minute workout video or program found online.
- Choose exercises you enjoy and can fit naturally into your daily life and schedule.
- Avoid sitting for extended periods of time.
- Set snacking alarms if you find it helpful and motivational, as a reminder to get up and get moving.
- Start small and build more movement into your day over time.
Finally, remember that the goal is health and wellness rather than stress and exhaustion. Listen to your body, thank it for all it gives and provides for you, and move it in ways that feel good!
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