Don't Have Time For A Big Workout? Try 'Exercise Snacking'

If you've only got a few minutes — or if you simply don't feel like moving your body for long — this hack is for you.
Exercising in small bursts can be easier and more accessible — and it has health benefits.
Maskot via Getty Images
Exercising in small bursts can be easier and more accessible — and it has health benefits.

After a long day at work, the last thing you may want to do is a hard workout. Even thinking about it can be exhausting, especially when you’re trying to balance that with dinner, spending time with family and friends and other things on your to-do list. How can you possibly do it all?

That’s where “exercise snacking” comes in. Instead of doing one big workout a day, it encourages you to get in some movement throughout the day in shorter bursts.

The goal is to move your body in a way that feels good or productive to you. Exercise snacking can be as informal or formal as you’d like. On the informal side, it might look like walking your dog, stretching your legs, doing jumping jacks while watching TV, taking the stairs or using a resistance band while you’re at work.

“You are able to do these without it really impacting the time in your day,” said Joslyn Thompson-Rule, a Peloton instructor.

Even a small amount of exercise can improve your health.

Exercise snacking is not only easier to fit into a busy schedule, but it’s beneficial for your health, too.

According to a 2019 study in Journal of Aging Research, exercise snacking can improve leg muscle function and size. And even climbing the stairs for a few minutes throughout the day can improve cardiovascular health, according to research at McMaster University and UBC Okanagan.

Exercise snacking can improve your daily living, too. It “gives you energy bursts” and “improves sleep performance,” said Georgy Dillon, a pre- and postnatal personal trainer who uploads exercise snack videos. So, it can help you fight that afternoon slump you may feel after lunch.

“Of course this is great for cardiovascular health, but the big thing for me is the positive impact it has on mental health, too,” Thompson-Rule said. If you feel down, unmotivated or unable to focus, fitting in an exercise snack can change that. According to Dillon, it improves clarity, elevates your mood and just generally benefits your mental well-being.

Since it’s usually easier to fit this type of exercise in, it can also help you feel more accomplished, like you’re able to meet your goals. “[It’s] rewarding and gives you a sense of achievement,” Dillon added.

It’s a more accessible option for people who find exercise triggering or physically difficult.

For people who have had an exercise addiction, knowing what a “healthy” workout looks like and stopping when necessary can be difficult. Exercise snacking is purposefully short, which can be less triggering and feel more natural than a trip to the gym.

“For those who have a condition or find working out more difficult, practicing the appropriate small exercise snacks means that they aren’t putting themselves under too much pressure too soon,” Dillon said.

For people with a chronic illness, such as back pain or a heart issue, exercise isn’t always an option — especially for a long stretch of time. Talking to your doctor is best (preferably one who’s well-versed in Health at Every Size, a holistic framework that promotes health equity), but according to the Cleveland Clinic, low-impact exercises such as walking or resistance bands for a short period can be the “snack” to choose. But again, ask your physician first (and listen to your body), as more exercise can make things worse for people with chronic fatigue syndrome, for example.

Here’s how to create your own “exercise snack.”

So think about what you want exercise snacks to look like for you. What fits into your day best and is most doable?

“There are no hard and fast rules — again, we are trying to move away from the idea that you have to move for a certain period of time for it to ‘count,’” Thompson-Rule said.

But if you need some more formal ideas to get you started, one option Dillon suggested is an interval workout. “Choose four exercises and set an interval timer to do 30 seconds of exercise, 20 seconds of rest and repeat for the exercise snack time, [such as] eight minutes,” she said.

Those exercises could be pushups, situps, squats, planks, lunges or whatever you find most enjoyable. (Remember: If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t want to do it, and creating a habit will be harder. Plus, you deserve to enjoy it. Exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread!)

Thompson-Rule agreed. “With that in mind, meeting yourself where you are at with both time and movement means you get to do what works for you,” she said.

Ultimately, exercise snacking is a whole new (and maybe even better) way to look at exercise. “It moves us away from the idea that you have to work out for a certain amount of time for it to be effective,” Thompson-Rule added. “Working out is so different for everyone.”

Don’t have a lot of time to work out, but want to squeeze some movement in? These are fitness experts’ top recommended products!

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

A jump rope
"Jump ropes are not only a great way to work on your coordination and footwork, but can also be used for a variety of cardio and HIIT workouts to get your heart rate up," explained Belgrave.

Our pick: This model has ball bearings for tangle-free use.
Walkingpad S1 folding treadmill
If working from home is an option, then the addition of a standing desk and walking pad can be an absolute game-changer — and my colleague Lindsay Holmes swears by this one.

"If you’re sedentary, think of ways to add standing or moving throughout the day to build a base of strength and cardio. If you work at a desk, you can get a walking pad to get your steps in while taking meetings instead of sitting," Goodtree told HuffPost.
Elite Sportz gliding fitness discs two-pack
Goodtree recommended glider discs to level up a workout without pricey, bulky equipment. They're compact, easy to tuck away, can be used on carpet or hardwood floors, and make it easy to squeeze in intense, low-impact workouts. They're great for core workouts as well as lunges and much more.

This two-pack from Elite Core Sliders is available in four different colors.
Theraband resistance set
All of our experts recommended resistance bands, and Hughes pointed to Therabands as a great option for stretching, physical therapy exercises and toning. They're easy to use, tuck away and feature color-coded resistance levels. Their wider band size makes them easier to use for exercises like squats and ab work.
Fit Simplify resistance loop bands
Hughes considers a basic set of resistance bands such as this one to be a great bare minimum baseline for the fitness averse. This set of five ranges from extra light to extra heavy resistance, so you can work your way up as your strength increases. You can even keep them in your purse so you can pop one on and start doing some squats while out and about. Stranger things have happened!
GoFit Wide Super Resistance Bands
Hughes pointed to superbands as another handy resistance band option. These have a heavier resistance than the other bands mentioned, but also come in a variety of different resistances, so you can move at your own pace.

"You can easily increase the difficulty with a heavier-tension band (with minimal space and finances being used)," Hughes noted.
Bowflex SelectTech 552 adjustable dumbbells
Goodtree has this variable set from Bowflex that replaces 15 sets of weights! They’re adjustable from five to 52 pounds each, so you can use this space-saving, versatile dumbbell for a range of exercises and strength levels. It even has motion-tracking technology that can count your reps and track your form when used in conjunction with a smart device's camera.
Fitbit Inspire 2 fitness tracker
According to Belgrave, "a fitness tracker can help workout-averse people keep track of their daily activity and motivate them to move more. Many fitness trackers come with features like step tracking, heart rate monitoring, and reminders to get up and move throughout the day."

You can set goals and reminders and track your progress with this super popular Fitbit fitness tracker. It's surprisingly subtle and chic, and will help motivate you to get some movement in whenever you have a spare moment.
BalanceFrom all purpose exercise mat
Hughes and Goodtree both recommended having a designated exercise mat regardless of what kind of workout you choose. Hughes noted that "it can help create space, a time and place for your workout to occur, providing motivation both physically and mentally.

Our pick: This extra-thick, high-density workout mat can be used for everything from yoga and mat pilates to bodyweight exercises, weight lifting and more. It's durable and strong, made with anti-tear foam with excellent slip resistance.
Gaiam yoga block
If mobility issues, fear of injury or stiffness is keeping you from fully embracing a workout, then a yoga block might help add stability and ease your mind. Hughes pointed out that yoga blocks can also be helpful because they can be used to create an incline and for slow eccentric movements. Use them under your chest to make progress with push-ups or tuck them between your knees to create tension.

Our pick: This version from Gaiam has a small footprint and can be used in a wide variety of workouts. It provides stability, support and balance, and is made with latex-free EVA foam with a soft non-slip surface.
Amazon Basics neoprene dumbbell set and stand
A small set of dumbbells make it easy to get motivated and squeeze in a quick workout.

"As you get more into the workout flow, a range of dumbbells is always helpful. An external load can help maximize the difficulty of time spent under tension, improving lean muscle mass development," Hughes explained.

This simple set of three different weights includes its own stand, so you don't have to worry about storage.
Amazon Basics high-density foam roller
A foam roller can help you indulge in a bit of post-workout massage and relaxation. Feeling good will help you want to stay consistent.

"Foam rollers are the best piece of equipment for a self-message. They can be used to release tight muscles, improve mobility, and reduce soreness after a workout," Belgrave pointed out.

You can try this lightweight roller from Amazon Basics, made of molded polypropylene to keep its firmness.
Bala Bangles
Throw these on your ankles or wrists while doing chores around the house, chasing your kids around or running errands for a bit of increased resistance without having to carve out additional time for a workout. You'll be surprised how much of a difference just one pound each can make. I love them, and Goodtree also finds they're an easy way to add a bit of extra oomph.

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