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May 14, 2014

'Exercise Snacking': The Latest Health Trend?

Adding small bursts of exercise before meals could bring big health benefits, finds study.

Adding small bursts of exercise before meals may bring big health benefits, according to research published in the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

Referred to as “exercise snacking,” this new trend supports exercising for short periods of time rather than dedicating large chunks of your day to physical activity. Not only is “exercise snacking” easier to incorporate into our busy lives, it helps break up sedentary time and confers the same health benefits as continuous periods of exercise.

To put this health trend to the test, researchers asked diabetic patients to try out a few different exercise regimens before meals. The first regimen included 30 continuous minutes of exercise before dinner, while other programs included shorter bouts of exercise before breakfast, lunch and dinner. Exercise is an important way to manage diabetes and researchers wondered if shorter bursts of exercise might be beneficial for blood sugar control.

After having nine patients test out these exercise programs for three days each, researchers found that exercising for short periods of time did, in fact, promote a healthy blood sugar. When patients exercised for 30 minutes before dinner, there were no improvements in blood sugar control. However, engaging in shorter intervals of physical activity before each meal helped reduce patients’ blood sugar by an average of 12%.

For patients with diabetes, this is a meaningful reduction in blood sugar levels. Poor diabetes management can lead to serious health complications, such as heart disease and stroke. By keeping blood sugar levels low over time, patients can drastically reduce their risk for these potentially life-threatening complications.

And according to authors, “exercise snacking” isn’t just for patients with diabetes. Exercising for short periods of time, whether before meals or any time throughout the day, can promote better health. According to the latest Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, as long as you engage in physical activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, you’ll get the same health benefits as exercising all at once. So rather than carving a large chunk of time each day to exercise, it may be even more beneficial to break it up into smaller amounts throughout the day.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How much exercise do I need?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • How long should I exercise each day?
  • Although it’s recommended that adults get at least 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, that doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once. By breaking up physical activity into small chunks of time (10 minutes or more), you can fit exercise more easily into your day and get the same health benefits.

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