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The Healthiest Snack You’ve Never Tried

Exercise is, typically, considered to be a monstrous task. Most people think of it as a consciously scheduled block of time that must, somehow, fit in with dozens of other things they have going on each day. And, we need to exercise 3-5 times per week for an hour each time?! Well, we do…

New Research on Exercise Snacking

Exercise is, typically, considered to be a monstrous task. Most people think of it as a consciously scheduled block of time that must, somehow, fit in with dozens of other things they have going on each day. And, we need to exercise 3-5 times per week for an hour each time?! Well, we do, at least if we want to meet the 2018 Physical Activity Guideline standards of 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise per week [1]. If we can muster up the energy to increase the exercise intensity of these sessions, we can get away with only 2-4 times per week to meet the recommended guidelines of 75-150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week [1]. But, don’t forget, we need to add on the 5 minutes it takes to get changed into gym clothes, the 15-minute drive to the gym, 10 minutes to shower off, and the 15-minute drive back. That’s one hour and 45 minutes, and we haven’t even stretched!

That seems to be an overwhelming commitment, particularly for those already short on time. So, let’s talk about snacks. Not food snacks, but exercise snacks [2].

New research by Jenkins et al. (2019) suggests that as little as 3 bouts/day of vigorously ascending a 3-flight stairwell (60 steps), separated by 1-4 h of recovery, performed 3 days/week for 6 weeks, can improve cardiovascular fitness in healthy, but inactive college students [2]. These infrequent, but consistent bouts of physical activity have been termed “exercise snacks.”

Stairwell climbs are a nice “snack”, and there are plenty of other snack opportunities that can arise throughout a given day. Here, I provide a few snacking ideas to help you improve fitness when you can’t find the time to make it to the gym. However, I must say, experts agree that both regular resistance training and attaining a high level of cardiovascular fitness have been associated with positive health outcomes.

Exercise Associations with Positive Health Outcomes

Exercise snacking should not replace resistance training or prolonged exercise sessions but, rather, should adjunct them. Without further ado, here are 7 exercise snacking ideas for you to try, plus an extra combo-move with double the health benefits.

**Societal norms have yet to catch up with exercise snacking. Snacking is what the cool kids will do, so you shouldn’t fear exercise snacking publicly. People may stare at you, but that’s only because you’re setting a trend. Please note: the cool kids will not do any of these things with a hot coffee in hand – this act is reserved for ninjas only.

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8 Exercise Snack Ideas to Try

  1. Stairwell climbs. Given the choice of taking the elevator, escalator, or stairs, choose the stairs, and sprint up them. With a friend or colleague? Challenge them to a race. I promise, it’ll be fun and you can thank me later (please don’t do this with hot coffee in hand).
  2. Shotgun, with blitz. When going back to your car from any event, once the car comes into your line of sight, sprint to it. If you’re with friends, 2nd person to the car has first dibs on seat selection. This is particularly fun after grocery shopping. I used to do this with my friend all the time.
  3. Do NOT walk. The typical sign at the crosswalk reads “do not walk.” It does not say “stand still.” You don’t have to stand still. Try doing push-ups, squats, or both. Your choice. Perform as many as you can while waiting for your cue that it’s safe to cross the street.
  4. Hang out” on the subway. Do as many pull ups or chin ups as you can on the subway handrails during your commute. If you can’t do one, try eccentrics (jumping up and slowly lowering yourself down) or jump and hold your chin above the bar for as long as you can a few times.
  5. Dine and dip. Then dip again. And again. After each meal, use your chair or bench (if it’s sturdy enough) and perform a set of bench dips to failure. If you’re eating with friends, make it a competition; lowest number of dips pays.
  6. The spontaneous side shuffle. When walking on the sidewalk, it’s inevitable that you’ll come to a corner, on occasion. And when you do, side shuffle to the next corner as fast as you can. Intermittently slamming the pavement with your hands and yelling “defense!” is optional. Before you know it, you’ll have NBA General Managers inquiring about your availability as a defensive specialist.
  7. Commercial moves. During commercial breaks when watching your favorite TV show, perform as many repetitions as possible before the commercial ends. Alternating lunges, alternating reverse lunges, split squats, mountain climbers, push-ups, bilateral squats, and jumping jacks are all choices, among a plethora of other exercises. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use the props around you, either. Try rear-foot elevated split squats (back leg on the couch/chair), decline or incline push-ups (feet or hands on the couch/chair, respectively), or even single leg squats where you descend down until your bum touches the couch/chair.
  8. Combo-move: the drink-sprint cycle. During the day, drink 20oz (one standard bottle) of water every 60 minutes. When it’s time to “go”, sprint to the bathroom. Rinse and repeat (pun intended) until the day is over. You’ll be hydrated and less hungry throughout the day, and will get plenty of exercise. You may even increase your sprint speed, too! If you started drinking 10am and ended at 5pm, you’d have consumed 160oz (20 cups) of water, and performed at least 8 high-intensity bouts of activity.

Get snacking!


  1. Piercy, K.L., Troiano, R.P., Ballard, R.M., Carlson, S.A., Fulton, J.E., Galuska, D.A., George, S.M. and Olson, R.D., 2018. The physical activity guidelines for Americans. Jama, 320(19), pp.2020-2028.
  2. Jenkins, E.M., Nairn, L.N., Skelly, L.E., Little, J.P. and Gibala, M.J., 2019. Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness?. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 44(6), pp.681-684.
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