Exercise Snacks: 8 ways to stay active even when you don’t have time

Kids never seem to get enough snacks. Parents, am I right?

If more adults treated movement like snacks, the world could be a healthier, and therefore happier, place.

Somehow we westerners have adopted a “go big or go home” mentality when it comes to fitness. But this is simply not helpful nor necessary for most individuals.

Meet exercise snacks.


Let me introduce you to the concept of “exercise snacks.” These are short bursts of movement that fit into bite-sized pockets of your day. Some days there’s no extra time or energy to dedicate an hour, or even 30 minutes, to exercise. 

On those days when you’ve got too much going on or you’re at your desk for hours, you can break off little bits of exercise to do throughout the day and still reap benefits.

A number of scientific studies have shown that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. Amazingly, a recent study even concluded that just 4-second bursts of exercise can improve fitness.

Do you have four seconds for a burst of exercise? 

Dr. Matthew Stork, health research postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is another advocate of the exercise snack. 

Dr. Stork says exercise snacks benefit your health by increasing the amount of activity in your day. Plus, they break up sedentary time. “Sedentary behaviour itself is linked to chronic health risks,” he points out. Moving throughout the day helps your body feel better, improves productivity, concentration, creativity, among other benefits. 

Sitting all day is bad.

Perhaps you’re saying, “I work out most days. I don’t need little bites of movement.” Well, my friend, let me tell you that exercise snacks are good for you too. 

Even people who exercise daily are at risk for chronic health problems if they sit all day long (Gibbs et al., 2017).

Bummer, huh? The good news is, if you take even a 5-minute movement break every hour, it’s enough to “drive important health improvements in sedentary workers,” (Keeling, Buchanan, & Dalleck, 2017).

Some approaches to combat prolonged sitting include a treadmill or stationary cycling desk. Less costly and bulky options are to break up long sit-sessions with any type of physical activity. While at your desk, try setting a timer for 20-30 minutes. Every time it goes off, get up and do some quick stretches and one set of pre-decided exercise (squats, push-ups, etc.).

How much is enough?

If you’re curious how much physical activity you need to be healthy, check out the World Health Organization guidelines here

The Center for Disease Control recommends to “move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity gain some health benefits.”

Most people agree that exercise is important. It’s sometimes easy to forget that movement matters even when it’s not “exercise.” Every minute of movement counts toward the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity we should be getting each week. University of Utah researchers found that each minute spent engaging in some kind of moderate to vigorous physical activity was associated with lower BMI and lower weight.

Here are 8 practical ideas.

Here are eight more ideas to incorporate activity–exercise snacks– into everyday life.

  1. Wait well. Queuing is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be wasted time. While you’re standing in line, do some calf raises (lift heels off the ground) or mini leg-lifts (front, side and back). Or close your eyes and test your balance. Breathe mindfully.
  2. While on phone calls use a headset so you can walk (even in place is better than sitting). 
  3.  If you have kids, play with them! Embrace impromptu dance parties. I do a lot of playground supervision these days. Rather than standing around watching my kids play with their friends, I do simple exercises like tricep dips or squats, or I walk around while keeping an eye on the kiddos. Every little bit counts!

  4. You know the trick to get in more steps by parking far away or taking the steps instead of the elevator. But try mixing up your movements to challenge the brain and body. Can you walk wacky (on heels or sideways or backwards–only if it’s safe to do so)? How many stairs can you skip at once?
  5. While you’re sitting at home watching TV or folding laundry, take it to the floor. If you need padding, add a mat or pillow, but shift positions periodically. This will encourage your body to stretch and move even while being mostly stationary.
  6. Do chores differently. Stand on one leg while doing dishes. Squat mindfully while putting away groceries or picking things up off the floor. Practice Kegels while brushing your teeth.
  7. If you’re able to get together with friends in these crazy pandemic times, go for a walk rather than sitting down for coffee.
  8. Tax the refrigerator. Every time you open it, do a pre-set activity (10 jumping jacks, for example).


These are just a few ideas. The best ones are those that you will actually do.

What about a real snack?

Of course food snacks can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Every time you nibble, it can be a trigger to remember to move your body in addition to fueling it

“If you’re working nine to five, you would normally take coffee breaks and washroom breaks,” Dr. Stork adds. “If you’re going to take a break and have a little snack, have a snack of activity too.”

Do you use exercise snacks? If so, please share your favorite. If not, can you identify someone who can hold you accountable for healthy snacking?

As a certified health and fitness coach, I would love to help you find ways to be more active throughout your day. Contact me here to set up a time to chat about it. 

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