What is ‘fitness snacking’ and is it key to improving your health?

Ongoing spurts of physical activity can help prevent illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles. Getty

Don’t get too excited, snack lovers.

Contrary to its name “fitness snacking” doesn’t have anything to do with munching on food while working out. Instead, it’s a term used to describe short periods of exercise done throughout the day, instead of an hour-long workout.

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British celebrity personal trainer Matt Roberts recently told The Telegraph that ongoing spurts of physical activity can help prevent illnesses associated with sedentary lifestyles, like heart disease and diabetes.

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The fitness expert said that not enough people get the daily exercise they need, and “fitness snacking” is an approach that helps folks incorporate physical activity in a manageable way.

In order to track their bursts of exercises, or “fitness snacks,” Roberts suggested a point system. People should aim for five points a day, he said, as different activities account for different points.

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Walking the dog for 30 minutes is three points, for example, while a 30-minute jog is six points. Taking a 15-minute walk during your lunch break is one point, and a yoga class is three. The goal is to aim for more points as your fitness level improves.

Is there something behind this ‘fitness snacking’ approach?

According to Pamela Fergusson, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, incorporating spurts of exercise into your day-to-day can help reduce your chances of developing diseases and improve your overall health. Fergusson said that inactive people are at an increased chance of chronic diseases and certain cancers.

“Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommends 60 minutes [of physical activity] a day for children, and 150 minutes a week for adults,” she said. “You can get those [minutes] through adding them up throughout the day, or by being active at the gym for a certain period.”
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But, Fergusson said, it’s important to make sure you’re doing at least some exercise that gets your heart rate up, like cardio, in between more leisurely forms of activity. When you raise your heart rate, you improve your cardiovascular health.

“The key is to try to get your heart rate elevated as well,” she explained. “So if you’re doing activity in short bursts, it would be good if some of those bursts were a bit higher intensity. Doing some interval training, like squats or jumping jacks, [and] taking advantage of the few minutes you have in the day while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil… [that] will do good,” she said.

“Walking is wonderful, but unless you’re really speed walking you’re probably not raising your heart rate very much.”

Bottom line

While “fitness snacking” may be a trendy term, the idea behind incorporating exercise into your daily routine is solid advice. Exercise not only has physical health benefits but can also improves your mental health, Fergusson said.

And even if higher-impact exercise is most effective for short bursts of activity, Fergusson said doing any movement is better than none.

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