'Exercise snacks' to improve health outcomes?

Monday, 01 July, 2024

'Exercise snacks' to improve health outcomes?

New research suggests that ‘exercise snacks’ — very short bursts of relatively intense activity separated by intervals of hours — could be a way to reduce sedentary time and improve fitness.

This could be particularly beneficial to people who struggle to follow a regular fitness regime, including people living with overweight and obesity and a range of chronic diseases that may make a regular exercise plan difficult.

“Current guidelines recommend 150–300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) weekly, but many struggle to meet these targets,” said Associate Professor Bruno Gualano of the Center of Lifestyle Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“To mitigate the negative impacts of prolonged sitting, exercise snacks are proposed as a practical alternative. These are brief, intense bursts of activity (1 minute or less), which can be more time-efficient than traditional exercise regimes.”

Gualano, who presented this work at the International Congress on Obesity, explained how even among healthy adults, only around two-thirds are meeting the weekly recommendations for physical activity. This accounts for around half for people living with obesity and even lower for people living with type 2 diabetes or other cardiovascular disease.

“Examples include stair climbing and short, intense cycling bouts, which have shown benefits for cardiorespiratory fitness and vascular health in various studies,” Gualano said.

“For instance, hourly stair-based exercise snacks improved vascular health in a trial with healthy males, while another study demonstrated their feasibility and benefits for people who are overweight or living with obesity. However, many people may struggle to implement exercise snacks owing to practical reasons, such as bus drivers or people who have physical disabilities and/or low exercise capacity, such as older individuals.

“The potential benefits of exercise snacks include reduced sedentary time and improved metabolic health, and these benefits may be achieved even with unstructured, very light activities, which do not fit exactly in the category of exercise snacks. Indeed, further research is needed to understand the long-term efficacy, safety and applicability of distinct physical activity strategies of breaking up sedentary time across different populations.

“The take-home message is that these strategies should be personalised to individual needs and abilities. And it’s important to recognise that any movement — even 1-minute exercise snacks separated by several hours — would be beneficial in reducing sedentary behaviour.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Eva-Katalin

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