When we think about exercise we think about changing clothes, about having the time to shower, about getting our base layers and running shoes bagged up, about devising or downloading a session to complete, about gym opening hours and the weather outside. We think about all the things that must come together for us to complete a full session of training.
Sometimes, when we think about exercise we think of the more accessible practice environments and the sessions of shorter durations that HIIT opens up. But even then, we still think of exercise as something that has to be fitted into and around our life. What if it we didn't have to do that?
A study published in 2017 concluded that one minute of intense stair climbing performed three times a week had benefits similar to traditional endurance training in sedentary individuals. But researchers had another question. They wanted to find out if it was feasible to break the workout down, spread its content throughout the day, and still see improvements in cardiovascular health. The results, published in January 2019, report that a protocol involving single stair sprints throughout the day, three times a week, was enough to improve cardiorespiratory fitness in sedentary young adults.
"So what?" you may be thinking. Well, here's why it matters. Stair climbing can be done anywhere, anytime, without special clothes or shoes, and without having to leave your home or office. As can many other "exercise snacks". The possibilities are endless. For example:
- Break up periods of prolonged sitting (at home or at work) with a timer. Set it to go off every 30 minutes or every hour and when it does, do as many push-ups as possible or hold a plank for as long as you can.
- Every time you make a cup of tea, spend the time waiting for the kettle to boil in a deep squat position. Or use it as a way to get a minute of hip stretching in.
- If you have a small child or a dog that you regularly play with, endeavor to get on the floor with them and play. Sitting on and moving across the floor activates a load of postural muscles throughout the body that don't get much attention otherwise.
- If you work in an office building, vigorously climb a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day.
"Exercise snacks" like this don't replace a dedicated exercise program as a way to improve health or hit specific fitness goals. And they're not going to make up for a nutrition program designed to help you lose weight. But they do break down long periods of sitting and get more movement into our lives. It might feel weird to begin with--who squats while the kettle is boiling or climb stairs for no reason?--but commit to it and you'll be amazed. 60 seconds six or seven times a day adds up over the course of a year. And when coupled with an actual movement and nutrition program the change can be huge. Plus, the difficulty of these snacks can be scaled up or down. If you're confident, get in a few all-out rounds of movement each day. If not, you can do something as simple as taking a flight of stairs two at a time instead of one. This is nutrition of a different kind. One that encourages and rewards constant snacking.