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Healthy ‘Exercise’ snacks with a difference

Time-poor? We show you how small bursts of exercise can be as effective as a weekly gym session with the latest trend: exercise snacking. By Sally J. Hall 

While we’d all love the time to take long yoga classes, spend the afternoon on a bike or play a game of football, long working hours along with responsibilities for family, housework and cooking mean there are never enough hours in the day. If you’re too busy to exercise regularly, however, there’s no need to abandon fitness altogether. 

The NHS recommends we take 150 minutes’ moderately intense activity per week, and we know that exercise can improve health and reduce the risk of illnesses such as strokes and heart disease…but the significant thing to notice here is that you don’t have to do all that in one go! Just 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise during the day, split into 10-minute chunks, can increase your overall fitness and health. 

Research backs up the idea of ‘exercise snacking’, showing that brief, intense periods of exercise of no more than 10 minutes at a time can have massive health benefits. A 2019 review of studies showed that exercise snacking is good for cardiorespiratory fitness and helps reduce blood pressure, weight, body fat and LDL cholesterol. It raises your metabolic rate when you start and keeps it burning after you’ve finished.  

And you don’t need special equipment or clothes. You can do it anywhere, at a time that suits you (just use a good deodorant!). Vary your routine to make it more enjoyable; for example, HIIT (see below) one day, a walk the next, taking the stairs another. The benefits don’t stop at physical health either; this plan will create a break in your working day, leading to better mental health, and exercise brings the blood flooding to your head, making you able to think and make decisions more easily. So don’t let lack of time be your excuse to put off your health any longer! 

Here are some ideas you can put into practice for yourself… 

Less, but more 

You may have heard of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, but what is it? This trend involves short bursts of intense exercise that improve fitness and help with weight loss. Start with a gentle jog on the spot, then a minute of star jumps, one of squats, then fast running, with a brief recovery period in between each. Finish with more squats and star jumps. Other exercises to include are sit-to-stand, standing calf raises, seated leg kicks, standing knee bends, push-ups, lunges, planks and seated leg kicks.  

Stair master 

If you use a lift, you’re missing the chance to add a little exercise in an easy way. Start by travelling to the floor below yours and walk up – at the end of the day, walk all the way down. The next day, take two flights – and increase each day until you’re walking all the way. It works the big muscles, especially the glutes, helps lower blood pressure and improves muscle tone.  

Walk tall 

Studies of people with diabetes recommend half an hour of moderate walking each day, with six minutes of intense walking broken into one-minute chunks within that. They show reduced blood sugar levels that day and the day after.  

Working at the car wash 

Instead of taking the car through the car wash, do it yourself! You’ll be stretching, reaching and squatting. Think of it as a workout that saves you money and leaves you with a sparkly result! Housework and gardening can be similarly employed. 

Stand up for yourself 

What’s more, while you’re at your desk you can also give your health a boost, with a slightly bigger snack. In the 1950s, Professor Jerry Morris of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine pinpointed the link between sitting for long periods and heart disease when he compared the health of sedentary bus drivers against their more active conductor colleagues. A 2010 study from the University of Queensland showed metabolic health can be harmed by prolonged sitting. Yes, standing can boost your health! 

It’s good for your bones, raises your heart rate, increases metabolism and improves your mindset. An NHS trial saw employees who were given sit-stand desks reporting less anxiety and fatigue and greater engagement with work. Standing for three hours a day clears sugars from the blood more quickly than sitting, too.  

Over to you 

The takeaway from this is that raising your metabolism several times a day, rather than once or twice a week, keeps your body working harder. Spread exercise across the day and you’ll find that you manage to include a decent chunk of activity that fits into your lifestyle. It helps improve your metabolism, which cranks up each time you take some exercise. What’s not to love? 

Benefits of taking short bursts of exercise 

  • Good for joint mobility 
  • Works specific muscle groups 
  • Fits around work 
  • Helps get you back into exercise after illness or injury 

But be aware… 

Make sure you are sensible about warming up before exercise, work within your comfort levels (though these will improve) and don’t do anything to cause an injury. Speak to your doctor if you have any conditions that might cause a problem.  

What kinds of exercise are suitable? 

Convinced? Here are some great exercise bites you can fit in around work and home responsibilities.  

  • Walking 
  • Running 
  • Dancing 
  • Trampolining 
  • Cycling 
  • Aerobics 
  • Weight training 
  • Steps 

CSSC’s new wellbeing initiative ten:four is perfect to take a bite-size break or min-workout, ten minutes a day, four times a week. 

CSSC Life runs bite-size workouts around work commitments  

Vary your routine to make it more enjoyable; for example, HIIT one day, a walk the next, taking the stairs another