It’s hard enough most days to carve out time for that hourlong gym workout. Around the holidays it can seem nearly impossible.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a full workout to reap the mental and physical benefits of exercise. Fitness “snacking,” or breaking up exercise into short bits throughout the day, also is effective at controlling blood sugar, burning calories, and maintaining your strength and sanity.
“You can get [your exercise] in short bursts,” says Cedric X. Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. “It’s like change in your pocket. It all adds up.”
Indeed, while the government advises a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week (five 30-minute workouts) for Americans, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (three 25-minute sessions) as well as two days a week of strength exercises, that effort can be whittled down into little bursts throughout the day. You could start with sets of push-ups or mountain climbers upon rising, take a brisk 15-minute walk to lunch, and end with an after-dinner walk and squats while brushing your teeth before bed.
In a 2014 study, small fitness snacks or bursts before each meal were more effective than one 30-minute workout at controlling blood sugar. And a more recent study found that just 10 minutes of light exercise improved the brain’s memory and function.
“A little here and there goes a long way,” says personal trainer Karena Dawn, co-founder of Tone It Up and the Studio Tone It Up app, who favors short, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) bouts to get the biggest metabolism-boosting benefit.
The right snacks
Although there’s no fitness snack that’s too small — any exercise is better than nothing — the evidence is a bit stronger to support 10-minute chunks of moderate aerobic activity, Bryant says, a position that the American College of Sports Medicine also supports.
He recommends finding 10 minutes each day for a mini-workout that combines cardio intervals with body weight strength moves.
“The key is to keep moving the whole time,” Bryant says. And to combat excuses, he recommends getting creative with where you squeeze your fitness in, such as push-ups during television commercial breaks, or walking lunges when you’re watching football and your team moves to defense.
A little here and there goes a long way
Snack-sized bites of fitness like these can make exercise seem less daunting, but to make it effective, find the pace, intensity and activity that works for you, says trainer Gunnar Peterson, who works with celebrities, as well as the Los Angeles Lakers.
“More than anything, try to have fun with it,” Peterson says. “Because if it’s not fun, at the end of the day as proud Americans we’ll say, ‘I don’t have to do this.’ If it’s fun, it promotes the return.”
THREE MOVES YOU CAN USE
Personal trainer Karena Dawn, co-founder of Tone It Up, features many short HIIT and bodyweight workouts on her YouTube channel and app. Here are three of her favorite multi-tasking moves to strengthen both upper and lower body and get your heart rate up. Do 15 repetitions of each move for three rounds.
What it does: Sculpts your shoulders and entire core.
How to do it: Start in plank with shoulders in line with wrists, with your body in one straight line from head to toe. In one sweeping motion rotate your body to the left as you kick your right leg through. Open into a side plank position with your left arm extended straight overhead. Return to plank position and repeat on the other side to make one rep.
What it does: Tones your inner thighs and butt.
How to do it: Stand with hands on hips and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with toes turned out. Keeping your spine long and chest upright, lower down until your thighs are as parallel to the ground as possible. Drive through the heels to return to standing.
What it does: Builds total body strength and boosts your heart rate.
How to do it: Start with your feet hip-width apart, standing tall. Lower your hands to the ground as you hop your legs back into a high plank position. Then hop your legs forward to meet your hands and jump straight into the air, reaching your hands overhead.