Exercise snacks – a simple and effective way to avoid doing nothing? | World Obesity Federation

Exercise snacks – a simple and effective way to avoid doing nothing?

NewsExercise snacks – a simple and effective way to avoid doing nothing?

Evidence has continued to mount on the negative effects of a lack of physical activity and the amount of time spent sitting (sedentary time).

A presentation at this year’s International Congress on Obesity in Sao Paulo (26-29 June) suggested that exercise snacks, very short bursts of relatively intense activity separated by intervals of hours – could be a way to reduce sedentary time and improve fitness in those who would most benefit, including people living with overweight and obesity and a range of chronic diseases that might make a regular exercise plan difficult.

“Current guidelines recommended 150-300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) weekly, but many struggled to meet these targets,” explained Associate Professor Bruno Gualano of the Centre of Lifestyle Medicine at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. “To mitigate the negative impacts of prolonged sitting, ‘exercise snacks’ were proposed as a practical alternative. These are brief, intense bursts of activity (1 minute or less), which can be more time-efficient than traditional exercise regimes.”

Professor Gualano explained how even among healthy adults, only around two-thirds were meeting the weekly recommendations for physical activity. This fell to around half for people living with obesity and even lower for people living with type 2 diabetes or other cardiovascular diseases.

Thus, exercise snacks could be of most benefit to people who would struggle to fit to what would be considered a regular fitness regime. “Examples include stair climbing and short, intense cycling bouts, which have shown benefits for cardiorespiratory fitness and vascular health in various studies,” explained Professor Gualano.

“For instance, hourly stair-based exercise snacks improved vascular health in a trial with healthy males, while another study demonstrated their feasibility and benefits for people who are overweight or living with obesity. However, many people might struggle to implement exercise snacks owing to practical reasons, such as bus drivers or people who have physical disabilities and/or low exercise capacity, such as older individuals.”

He continued: “The potential benefits of exercise snacks included reduced sedentary time and improved metabolic health, and these benefits might be achieved even with unstructured, very light activities, which do not fit exactly in the category of exercise snacks. Indeed, further research was needed to understand the long-term efficacy, safety, and applicability of distinct physical activity strategies of breaking-up sedentary time across different populations. The take-home message was that these strategies should be personalised to individual needs and abilities. And it was important to recognise that any movement - even 1-minute exercise snacks separated by several hours – would be beneficial in reducing sedentary behaviour.”

“This strategy could be potentially applied everywhere at home or office, as it did not involve any specific equipment or devices. Apart from the impossibility of temporarily stopping a sedentary activity (the case of drivers), the main feasible concern was the individual’s physical capacity to undergo the short, intensive bout of effort.”

Associate Professor Bruno Gualano of the Center of Lifestyle Medicine at the Uinversity of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

International Congress on Obesity

The International Congress on Obesity (ICO 2024) is hosted by the World Obesity Federation (WOF), in partnership with WOF member organisation the Associação Brasileira para o Estudo da Obesidade (ABESO), ICO 2024 took place at the Frei Caneca Conventions Center in São Paulo from June 26-29.