Snacktivity: How bite-sized exercise can improve your health

Snacktivity: How bite-sized exercise can improve your health

Fancy some bite-sized exercise? Welcome to Snacktivity!

 

Would you like to exercise more?

Studies show that the main reason for inactivity is perceived lack of time. When you’re rushing between one thing and the next, finding the officially recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity in your week may be a pipe dream.

Feeling that the amounts needed are too big for you to manage, you may give up trying to do anything. And this is really not good for your health, as physical activity benefits all aspects of our physical and mental wellbeing.

 

Something is better than nothing

International guidance now recognises that some physical activity is better than none.

Incorporating even small amounts of physical activity into our day has health benefits, and a group of academics from the UK and Australia has developed “Snacktivity” to help those of us who struggle to make time to be active.

 

What is Snacktivity?

Let’s be clear from the off – Snacktivity has nothing to do with snacking and everything to do with bite-sized exercise! It promotes shorter (2–5 minute) and more frequent ‘snacks’ of physical activity throughout the day. A recent study* looked at whether this is likely to translate into people actually moving more.

The study included people who currently do less than 1 hour of physical activity a week, and were either unemployed or worked in sedentary jobs. Participants were given a picture board leaflet with 30 suggestions of things you can do for a few minutes at a time which involve being active. They were asked to incorporate Snacktivity into their lives for at least five days and were then interviewed about the experience.

 

Pick ‘n’ Mix

To make physical activity more appealing, the idea is that you choose from the wide range of ‘activity snacks’ which vary in levels of difficulty. You choose what suits you and when.

Rather than trying to carve out time just for exercise, you can double up by doing leg raises whilst watching TV, or walking on the spot whilst brushing your teeth.

 

Easy to do

People in the study said they found it easy to integrate activity snacks with other activities, so they didn’t require additional time. Because it was easy to do, people quickly felt a sense of achievement.

They also started to realise that things they already did, like running errands, involved beneficial activity and this too boosted confidence. Feeling confident about being able to do something makes it more likely we’ll keep doing it, creating a virtuous circle.

 

A new way of thinking about exercise

People found that Snacktivity gave them a whole new way of thinking about how to be physically active – it challenged ‘conventional wisdom’ that long bouts of vigorous physical exercise are needed to experience health benefits.

Instead they came to see that any physical activity is beneficial for health, even short ‘bites’ at a lower intensity, and with this came a new awareness of opportunities to do more physical activity throughout the day.

 

It actually worked

Most people reported that their physical activity had increased while doing Snacktivity, either modestly or by a substantial amount. Given that people had been chosen on the basis of doing very little activity, this is a great result.

People remarked that the picture board included activity snacks that were mostly light to moderate intensity, but these could be adapted to increased intensity as ability and confidence grows.

 

Killing two birds with one stone

Around half of the participants said that for them, Snacktivity had the benefit of ‘killing two birds with one stone’, as many activity snacks could be undertaken at the same time as doing other tasks, rather than having to compete for time against other daily activities and priorities.

This fits with the well-known effect of “habit stacking” where you deliberately link a new habit you want to establish with another that is already automatic. Like brushing your teeth in the morning.

 

Tailored to your lifestyle

People in the study noted that Snacktivity could be tailored to people’s individual circumstances, and it was suitable for people of all ages, levels of physical fitness, and those with medical conditions.

Snacktivity can be completed at any time of day, and needs no special equipment, or a change of clothing, which makes it convenient.

 

Enjoyment is key

The main reason for maintaining physical activity was enjoying the activity itself. Getting pleasure from doing something means it’s all the more likely to become a habit, as we’re driven to do it again to get the feel-good hormones flowing.

 

The fly in the ointment

The one problem people in the study did mention was forgetting to do Snacktivity! But they also had ideas for addressing this including phone reminders and using physical activity trackers that alert you when you’ve been sedentary for too long.

 

How about Snacktivity for you?

I don’t know about you, but when I took a break writing this, I found that reading the study had inspired me to do something, so I did a few minutes of arm exercises when normally I might have checked my emails.

I think I love the idea of Snacktivity!

Reference

* Tyldesley-Marshall, N., Greenfield, S.M., Parretti, H.M. et al. (2021) Snacktivity™ to Promote Physical Activity: a Qualitative Study. Int. J. Behav. Med.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-021-10040-y

 

 

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