Exercise Snacking: The Daily Weight Loss Trick You Need to Try

If you’re having trouble fitting exercise into your busy schedule, exercise snacking could be the solution you need. Bite-sized bursts of movement can have a surprising effect on weight loss.

Photo: recep-bg/gettyimages.ca

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

We’ve all been there: at the end of a long workday, we’ve all had moments where we’ve chosen the couch over a workout. Fitting regular exercise into your schedule is tough, and sticking with your workouts during busy, stressful or just plain tiring weeks is a challenge. But exercise and  weight loss go hand in hand, meaning you have to find a way to focus on your fitness even when it’s the last thing on your mind.

Fortunately, you may not need to dedicate a whole lot of time in order to achieve results. A phenomenon called exercise snacking may help you lose weight without spending hours in the gym. All you need are a few minutes – or seconds – of movement here and there. Exercise snacking doesn’t require a ton of commitment, but it might help you rev up your metabolism. 

What is exercise snacking?

Exercise snacking is almost the opposite of a traditional workout. Instead of working out for 30 to 60 minutes straight, you complete “snack-sized” or “bite-sized” workouts that are incredibly short. Throughout the day, you pick different aerobic activities and perform them for just seconds at a time.

“Exercise snacking” is a term used by scientists at the University of British Columbia in their recent study. These scientists studied the impact of short bursts of aerobic exercise within a single training session compared to spreading these short bursts throughout the day and with much longer recovery periods – and their findings led them to support the concept of exercise snacking. 

That research study assigned healthy, inactive participants into two groups. The first group of participants performed traditional sprint interval training (SIT) on a stationary bike. The 10-minute session consisted of three 20-second sprints separated by three minutes of rest. The second group of participants performed the same 20-second sprints, but in this “exercise snacks” version, the bouts were separated by one to four hours of rest, instead of three minutes. 

You can customize exercise snacking, opting to “snack” for just a few seconds or a few minutes at a time. While the researchers had participants get moving for 20 seconds, you can also get similar benefits if you keep going for two to four minutes. Just keep it short – and make sure to get your heart rate up.

Short bursts of exercise have a big metabolic impact

While exercise snacking sounds almost too good to be true, the study results were undeniable. Researchers found that after six weeks just 20 seconds of activity performed three times a day with one to four hours in between improved participants’ aerobic (or cardiorespiratory) health in a way equal to traditional SIT sessions, suggesting that exercise snacks are a healthy choice. 

Balancing a whole day of sitting with repeated exercise snacking may have other benefits, such as improved blood sugar control. In one study, researchers found that exercise snacking before meals helped control blood sugar in people with insulin resistance more effectively than 30 minutes of moderate exercise. Additionally, another similar research study found that energetically climbing a three-flight staircase, three times per day, separated by one to four hours of recovery, for six weeks, resulted in improved aerobic fitness and strength in their previously sedentary subjects, especially when compared to their inactive peers. 

When you’re sedentary throughout the day, your body may reduce its metabolic rate. That, over time, may potentially contribute to insulin resistance; it can also make it more challenging to burn fat and shed extra weight. But when you get up and get moving, even for just a few seconds, you may boost your metabolism. And that might help everything from your blood sugar and insulin levels to your muscles and tissues. It may even help you prevent decreases in your body’s ability to break down fat.

So, the more often you get up and “snack” with a short burst of movement, the more you may help combat a slowing metabolism. You may help keep your body breaking down fat efficiently, and you might even see more stable blood sugar levels. Together, these advantages can help you lose weight, combating the negative impact of staying in your chair all day.

Every little bit of movement counts

How exactly should you practice exercise snacking in order to get the biggest potential weight loss benefits? Absolutely any way you’d like, as long as you keep the time interval short.

You can customize exercise snacking, opting to “snack” for just a few seconds or a few minutes at a time. While the researchers had participants get moving for 20 seconds, you can also get similar benefits if you keep going for two to four minutes. Just make sure to get your heart rate up.

You can climb a flight or two of stairs; you can get up and walk around for two minutes. Doing a few jumping jacks or taking a short jog will work too. As long as you’re getting up out of your chair and moving, you’re “snacking” right.

The University of Washington notes that it’s a good idea to try movements you enjoy to make exercise snacking easy. The easier it is to work an activity into your daily routine – like taking a short walk at lunch or pacing while you’re taking phone calls – the more likely you’ll be to stick with it.

And every few seconds you get up, get moving and get your heart rate up count. Whether you’re working in a traditional office or at home, you can find ways to incorporate heart-pumping movements. You can do jumping jacks while you brew your morning cup of coffee at home, or you can climb a flight of stairs every hour in your office building. Instead of taking lunch at your desk, you can head outside so you’re walking more. If you have a smartwatch or fitness tracker, use that to set reminders for exercise snacks.

With regular exercise snacks, you just might see a significant impact on your weight loss efforts and improve your overall wellness. To find more helpful weight loss suggestions, don’t forget about your diet – healthy habits like these play a crucial role:

Trending on Clean Eating

Show Your Liver Some Love: A Clean Eating Webinar

Join Clean Eating dietitians Tiffani Bachus and Erin Macdonald for an exclusive webinar all about liver health and wellness.