7 Mar 2021

The benefits of 'exercise snacking'

From Sunday Morning, 11:51 am on 7 March 2021

There's good news for people who are finding it difficult to get to the gym during the pandemic - research has found that 'exercise snacking' can be highly effective in boosting your energy and improving productivity.

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With more people stuck inside the house due to the pandemic, WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week.

Fraser University professor of health sciences Scott Lear told Sunday Morning he wants to dispel the notion that people must do large chunks of activity or exercise to see any benefit.

“It’s that first few steps from getting up from the chair, getting off the couch, getting off from the bed that provides the greatest benefit, and of course if you do more of these steps it’s going to give even greater benefits.”

Often people think of going to the gym and getting their heart rate up when they think of exercise, Prof Lear says, but that’s not always necessary.

“All that activity is great and I do that type of activity but any type of movement we do with our body is good movement … activities such as gardening, raking leaves or like we’re doing in some parts of Canada now, shovelling snow, is activity that can give you just as much benefit as what we might stereotypically call exercise.”

Household chores, being active at work, or walking to work can all be little bouts of activity that fit into the ‘exercise-snacking’ term, which is perfect for people who say they don’t have time to go to the gym or don’t have gear at home.

“You could be sitting at your desk like I am and then I’ll get up and do 20 seconds of squats or push-ups or jogging in place, or maybe just go outside and walk around in the yard for a few times and come back, and that’s beneficial too,” Prof Lear says.

One piece of research looking at high intensity interval training looked at the same popular fitness trend but using the exercise-snacking method.

“Over the course of doing that throughout the day, a few times, it had about the same effect on improvements in fitness as doing it in one bout altogether,” Prof Lear says.

He says even if people let go of it for a while, they shouldn’t let guilt take over the will to be active.

“Life happens, and we need to be able to expect that and also to not be so hard on ourselves. Sometimes maybe the plan in the morning was to go for a 40-minute bike ride, but for whatever reason something happened, but going out for a 5-10 minute walk is still an achievement, if you miss one session it’s not going to set you back in terms of health or fitness.”

He recommends the 11-minute Royal Canadian Air Force workout which doesn’t require any gear.