Snacking on Exercise - How Small Bursts of Energy Help Your Heart

Austin Cooper

Did you know that physicians recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week to maintain health? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, everyone should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate intensity (aerobic) exercise each week. Unfortunately, time is an issue for so many of us, since we live busy lives. Thinking about finding that time can seem overwhelming, but that number actually breaks down to about 30 minutes of exercise per day, five days a week. Finding 30 minutes of extra time is easier than finding a full hour or more. As an alternative, you can always break the 30 minutes into two 15-minute segments, or even three 10-minute segments.

What is exercise snacking?

If you struggle to get your recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week, there is a solution. It’s called “exercise snacking,” and it involves engaging in short bursts of exercise multiple times throughout your day, rather than spending an hour or two at the gym all at once. The idea is to be as active as possible during the day. Get up from your desk more frequently, take the stairs, or park further away from the entrance. Find excuses for movement, because it all counts.

When exercising for less than 30 minutes, it is best to do what is called HIIT, or high intensity interval training, which is short all-out effort bursts followed by more moderate efforts of exercise. HIIT burns a lot of calories in a short amount of time, helping you lose fat and gain muscle.

Any type of exercise you choose, whether it is strength training or cardiovascular training, will have some effect that is beneficial to your heart. Overall, doing cardio or aerobic training has the greatest effect on your heart if it is at least 10 minutes in duration in your specified heart rate range. You should have a balanced approach when it comes to exercise, as they all work together to help your body become more fit; adding strength training to your routine will yield a greater benefit than doing cardio for every workout.

Exercise snacking at work

Sitting at a desk all day can deter your fitness levels, especially if you are not doing your best to get up and move every now and then. Posture can be affected; lower back pain and a weakening of the core can take place in all that time spent sitting. There are ways to counteract this, such as:

  • Resistance bands are an inexpensive and portable solution.  Put them in your bag or desk and take them out when you have some free moments. An example of a resistance band exercise is wrapping the band around a secure object, holding each handle and pulling towards you, like in a row. This is called a pull exercise and can be completed in a seated or standing position. Pull exercises pull the shoulders back and offset the poor posture that is brought on by long periods of sitting.
  • Reverse squats, a sit-to-stand motion, this is a good exercise to get you up and moving while at a desk.
  • Desk pushups, a standing push up motion against a wall or other surface like a table or desk, are also an easy exercise to do when at work.

If your company allows, you can get a standing desk and do some of your work standing up to combat the effects of constantly sitting. Exercise ball chairs are another great option, as they force you to engage your core and improve your posture.

In general, consistent exercise can help you stay healthy in the long term.  Exercise is important to our overall health because it can help improve our body’s ability to fight diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Exercise also vastly improves our daily life, with greater stamina, improved sleep, enhanced mood and better weight control.

For more tips on being physically active, visit the Moving section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.

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