Exercise Snacks: Treat Your Exercise Like You Treat Your Food
Angelia Nicole Layton, better known as just Angie, is a reality television personality, Survivor: Philippines Castaway and reigning 2014 Miss Utah USA.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Angie auditioned and was selected for Survivor: Philippines where she made it to Day 9 and in the process proved to herself that there is much more to her than a pretty face.
“I don’t have time” is probably the most used and abused excuse for not working out.
But, that excuse is now officially invalid.
Ten-minute high-intensity workout sessions—a.k.a. exercise snacks—are poised to become the research-supported exercise regimen anyone can fit into his or her day.
What Is an Exercise Snack?
We all know what snacks are: smaller food portions we consume between meals to satisfy our sweet tooth, keep appetite at bay, or fill our daily macros.
And, we also know what exercise is: physical movement for the purpose of getting fit, staying fit, or having fun.
People typically think of snacking and exercise in opposition to each other. Gym newbies, for instance, often watch the calorie counter on the cardio machines, anxious to reward themselves with a snack they’ve “earned” after they burn a certain number of calories.
Unfortunately, this “exercise now, snack later” attitude can be detrimental to fitness goals. It’s easy to underestimate how much we eat and overestimate how hard we work. The adage remains true: you can’t out-train a bad diet.
But what if exercise itself became the snack?
Combine the concept of smaller portions with physical activity and you’ve created exercise snacking. In contrast to traditional workouts that last 30 minutes or longer, an exercise snack is a short burst of activity, typically 10 to 12 minutes max.
Health Benefits of Exercise Snacking
Not only are exercise snacks shorter, they also yield certain health benefits, and they do it better than your typical gym session.
For example, exercise snacks provide a novel way to control blood sugar. Performing 10 to 12 minutes of intense exercise before meals regulates blood sugar throughout the day.
Think of it as priming your muscles to accept the calories you’re about to eat. Recently exercised muscles soak up blood glucose like a sponge in a swimming pool. Even though eating elevates blood sugar, the exercise snack lessens the overall blood sugar spike. The effects are especially promising in people with insulin resistance.
In addition to managing blood sugar, exercise snacks also benefit blood pressure. Taking three 10-minute walks throughout the day lowers blood pressure longer than one 30-minute walk. This type of exercise snack doesn’t require the same intensity as pre-meal exercise snacks, but its effects most benefit people at risk for cardiovascular disease or who have elevated blood pressure.
On the practical side, exercise snacking spreads physical activity throughout the day more effectively, too. Although 30 to 60 minute gym sessions still have their place, many people who are physically active most days still spend lots of time being sedentary. Smaller bursts of physical activity make it less likely for you to stay seated for extra-long stretches and get you moving more overall.
How to Snack the Healthy Way
To become a regular exercise snacker, set aside at least 10 minutes before every major meal for a glucose and blood pressure-managing workout. For example, before heading to your business lunch, run up a few extra flights of stairs and then take them all the way down to street level. Or, throw your dinner in the oven, and use some of the baking time for your exercise snack. With a little practice, finding these 10-minute, pre-meal increments will be second nature.
For best results, focus on intensity and get as many muscles involved as possible. Treat each exercise snack like a mini HIIT session: alternate 30 to 60 seconds of all-out exercise with 10 to 30 seconds of rest. The higher the intensity of your exercise snack, the longer your muscles and metabolism work overtime to absorb extra glucose. Aim for 85% – 90% of your max heart rate.
Rotate through this starter list of high-intensity options to turn exercise snacking into a habit:
- Resistance band training
- Jumping jacks
- Jump rope
- Kettlebell swings
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of how exercise snacking can be just as fun as traditional snacking—and even more rewarding.
eSupplements Article Recap
- Exercise snacks are quick but intense workout sessions, usually before meals.
- Regular exercise snacking regulates post-meal blood sugar, improves blood pressure, and keeps you moving throughout the day.
- A good exercise snack acts like a mini HIIT session and includes as many muscles as possible.
2014's 10 Pre-Workout Supplements
-  Francois, Monique Emily. “Exercise Snacking before meals as a novel approach to glycaemic control in pre diabetes.” Thesis, Master of Physical Education. University of Otago.
-  Bhammar, DM, SS Angadi, and GA Gaesser. “Effects of fractionized and continuous exercise on 24-h ambulatory blood pressure.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 44.12 (2012): 2270-6.