A study published in Nature Medicine may have blown the lid off cherished exercise myths at last. And you can trash the “no pain, no gain” mantra once and for all. The study confirms that regular spurts of exercise throughout the day – “exercise snacks” – correlate with major reductions in disease risk. These briefer stints – as little as 1 or 2 minutes at a time – are often more beneficial than one longer session of exercise.
And one helluva lot easier too.
by David Stone
What are activity snacks?
Activity snacks are short, frequent bouts of activity peppered randomly throughout the day. Like eating from an open bag of potato chips, but way healthier.
The mentioned study in Nature Medicine suggests that these snacks are more effective for reducing disease risk than longer, single sessions of exercise.
The theory behind this finding is that these smaller bursts of activity cause the body to produce higher levels of protective hormones and other chemicals, which ward off disease and promote overall health. In other words, they do the same as longer bouts but without so much effort of time.
This might mean climbing stairs, some brief aerobics with your child or a quick job or fast walk on your way to buy chips. The natural, low-calorie, high-fiber kind, of course.
While more research is needed to fully understand the benefits of activity snacks, they appear to be an effective strategy for improving overall health and preventing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
How much time is needed for an activity snack?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the optimal frequency and duration of activity snacks may vary depending on individual factors like age, fitness level, and overall health status. But generally, we’re talking as little as 1, maybe 2 minutes at a time and as few as 3 times per day.
It’s astonishing really, especially when you recall all the discipline and time set aside over the years for visits to the gym or the track.
The Nature Medicine paper is among the first to examine what many exercise scientists have long hypothesized: A little bit of physical activity goes a long way, even movement you might not consider a workout.
This means that you don’t need to go to the gym for hours every day to maintain your health – even light activities, like taking a brisk walk, can be beneficial.
How can a little bit of physical activity “go a long way?”
The fact is, nobody is sure why. Researchers just know now that it does.
One explanation mentioned above is that these short, frequent bouts of exercise cause your body to produce higher levels of protective hormones and other chemicals. They reduce disease risk and promote overall health, even in relatively small amounts.
But activity snacks may also facilitate changes in metabolism, enabling more effective calorie burning and, thus, better weight management.
Overall, the benefits of activity snacks are still being explored, but they may be an effective strategy for improving overall health and preventing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Significantly, researchers used data from fitness trackers instead of subjective diaries. They looked at over 25,000 people who did not regularly exercise for almost seven years. Their average age was around 60,.
Why are fitness trackers better than diaries kept by subjects?
Fitness trackers are more accurate than self-reported diaries in measuring physical activity levels since they objectively measure things like heart rate, movement and energy expenditure.
This allows researchers to obtain more reliable data about how much a person is exercising and their overall health status.
Fitness trackers are commonly used today as a way to motivate and monitor people’s physical activity, making it more likely that subjects will accurately track their behavior. Overall, the use of fitness trackers in studies like this can help researchers gain a better understanding of how different types of exercise affect health outcomes.
Just the Facts
The Nature Medicine study showed the most startling results among those who engaged in one or two-minute bursts of exercise roughly three times a day. From their roughly five minutes, they gained a nearly 50 percent reduction in cardiovascular mortality risk and a roughly 40 percent reduction in the risk of dying from cancer as well as all causes of mortality compared with those who did no vigorous spurts of fitness.
These results are stunning. But will they change how people view and practice fitness routines?
How might these results change the way people approach fitness?
Given the health benefits of even simple activity snacks, this supports fitness routines with much shorter bouts of exercise. Specifically, they may encourage viewing movement as easily assimilated into everyday lives.
Ultimately, the results of this study could have wide-reaching implications for public health policy and shape future research on physical activity and health outcomes.