Use Exercise ‘Snacks’ to Feel Better, Improve Health

It’s no secret that we all sit too much – working at our desks, driving in our cars and relaxing on the couch.

A small study published online in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, looked at the effects that stair climbing exercise ‘snacks’ had on those sitting for long hours.

Researchers found that adults with overweight or obesity who took an hourly exercise break for only 20-60 seconds to climb 55 steps had lower blood insulin levels as compared to those who sat for 9 hours.

We know that high insulin levels reflect a state of insulin resistance and puts you at risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that short bouts of physical activity can add up to better metabolic health.

Without having to go to a health club, here are some things you can start doing today to add exercise ‘snacks’ to your own daily activities.

1 – Plan Frequent Breaks into Your Day

Smart phone apps and timers actually make taking breaks from prolonged sitting easier than ever.

Whether you set a timer to buzz, vibrate or beep for a 5 or 10-minute break every hour or a 3-minute break every 30 minutes, an alarm signals it’s time to get up and walk around.

Within minutes of standing up, your muscles are contracting and your body is changing how it handles insulin.

Getting up and walking around or climbing stairs can reduce joint stiffness and refresh your mind as well.

2 – Look for ‘Move More’ Opportunities

Some people think that they must get in a full hour-long intense health club workout or it’s not worth the effort.

But the truth is that small bouts of physical activity count and do add up to counter the negative effects of sitting too much.

When you drop the perfectionistic mindset, you can redefine the way you build movement into your day.

Does your dog need an extra walk? Can you park your car farther away? How about walking up the escalator instead of standing still or bypassing the elevator for the stairs? Can you take an after dinner walk with family members?  What about walking while on a conference call?

Moving more has so many benefits such as an improved mood, healthier metabolism, boosted energy level and overall better health.

3 – Measure and Mark your Progress

For motivation, consider buying a wearable activity tracker, such as a Fitbit, Garmin tracker or Apple watch which tracks everything fitness-related including number of steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned, heart rate and even sleep quality.

A long-term goal would be to take 8000-10,000 steps per day.

Use tracker data to motivate yourself to move more and then compare how you feel on the days you’re more active with how you feel on the days you’re less active.

Most of my patients find that their mood and energy levels are better on their more active days.

I hope that incorporating exercise ‘snacks’ into your daily routine will help you feel the same.

Stay safe and be well!


Robert Kushner, MD

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