Fitness snacking: The health trend promising to banish lengthy workouts for good

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Thought a meaningful workout involved hours on the cardio machine at the gym? Think again. The concept of fitness snacking – exercising in short bursts, from 30 seconds to 10 minutes – is on the rise, largely due to busy post-pandemic lifestyles that lack the time and energy to spend at the gym. So, whether you’ve been struggling with motivation or are just feeling generally burnt out, could it be the thing to help get your fitness groove back? We’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to, and have enlisted expert trainers to tell us whether the hot new trend is actually worth it and how you can practise fitness snacking at home. 

What is fitness snacking?

The concept entails structuring workouts into short bouts, often performed more than once a day, with each workout only lasting up to 10 minutes. Unlike longer fitness sessions, these workouts don’t involve a warm up or cooldown as you’re encouraged to get to the core of the workout quicker. 

The benefits of fitness snacking

fitness snacking

So, do short but frequent workouts actually yield results? While you may not walk out of the gym with defined abs, mini exercise routines still hold benefits. Mark Bohannon, personal trainer at Ultimate Performance gyms in London, says: “It’s true that doing something is better than doing nothing. There are lots of benefits to fitness snacking, particularly if you’re pressed for time or you can’t get to a gym, or you have ‘gymtimidation’ – which is a fear of going to the gym. The beauty of fitness snacking is that you can do these sorts of workouts anywhere, at any time, which might be the perfect solution for someone with a busy lifestyle and who simply doesn’t have the time to spend an hour or so in the gym three times a week.

“Anything that gets your heart rate up – even for a short period of time – will kickstart your metabolism, keep you active throughout the day, and burn calories. Not to mention the mental and cognitive benefits that doing any form of exercise brings. When you do any form of challenging exercise, it releases endorphins which leave you feeling great, and research has shown it can improve your cognitive function.”

Activity snacks could also be a gateway for people to bring other exercises into their lives

Penny Weston

Elsewhere, research has suggested frequent exercise can help manage other medical conditions such as diabetes. In April 2023, charity Diabetes UK conducted a study which found three minutes of walking every half an hour can help reduce blood sugars in those with type 1 diabetes – and its benefits are not just limited to those with the condition. The charity referred to the short bouts of exercise in the study as ‘activity snacking’, and recommended walking phone calls or setting a timer to remind you to take your steps. 

fitness snacking

Penny Weston, a fitness expert who often works with diabetic clients and founder of MADE – a lifestyle gym in Staffordshire – adds, “I think activity snacks are a great idea, even for people without diabetes. Studies have proven that sitting down for long periods of time can increase blood pressure, cause high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and even slow metabolism rates down. Activity snacks could also be a gateway for people to bring other exercises into their lives.”

Short bouts of exercise have also been found to be beneficial for increasing muscle mass in those aged over 50, as it’s at this age that we begin to lose around one per cent of muscle mass every year, which only accelerates once we reach 60. In 2018, GP Dr Zoe Williams and Department for Health researcher, Dr Oly Perkin, asked a group of over-65s to complete five minutes of home-based fitness snacking – including sit-to-stand from a chair, march on the spot, seated knee extension, standing knee bends and calf raises – twice a day for a month. The study concluded that, after four weeks of fitness snacking, leg strength and power increased by six per cent and thigh muscle size increased by two per cent. 

The drawbacks of fitness snacking

“Fitness snacking is not without its limitations,” says Bohannon. “Yes, you can fit in short bursts of activity throughout the day, such as climbing the stairs at work or home, or five-minute stints of press-ups, burpees, star jumps or jogging on the spot, and it’s going to burn a certain amount of calories and build up your cardiovascular capability. But what really speeds up your metabolism, more than anything else, is the amount of muscle mass you’re carrying and the way to increase your muscle mass is through resistance training. 

“Now you might be able to build a certain amount of muscle through fitness snacking. But eventually, these short workouts won’t challenge your body enough unless you start introducing weights to make the workouts progressively more difficult. If you do the same exercises, day-after-day, and don’t make them progressively more challenging, your progress will stall. 

“Fitness snacking will only take you so far, and there will come a point where you will need to perform longer, more intense workouts that involve progressively heavier weights if you want to carry on building muscle and torching those unwanted calories.”

How to try fitness snacking at home

fitness snacking

Fitness snacking’s potential drawbacks, however, don’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try – and for the gym-avoidant among us, there’s one easy way to incorporate short workouts into your routine: walking. “For both your mental and your physical health, the benefits of taking short but frequent walks are innumerable,” explains Bohannon. “In terms of your physical health, walking is one of the most underrated activities you can do to improve your overall health and wellbeing. In fact, I have prescribed 10,000 steps a day for every single client I’ve ever trained for fat loss. 

“You don’t need to do all 10,000 steps in one go. Five-minute walks – or walking snacks – spread out across the day will all add up. If you were to take 10, five-minute walks every day, which equates to nearly an hour across your day, you might find yourself burning between 180 and 300 calories. 10,000 steps is not a magic number, and how many calories you burn varies according to the individual, but it’s a good baseline figure to aim for. These types of fitness snacks are hugely beneficial and I would recommend everyone embrace their benefits.”  

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