If you feel like an overstuffed kielbasa in your clothes, it might not take a Herculean effort to get back on track. Exercise scientists at the University of British Columbia found just 15 to 30 seconds of aerobic activity like climbing stairs, performed once an hour for eight hours, can significantly improve your health if you’re packing a few pounds too many right now.
Specifically, just two to four total minutes of movement during the workday, when you’d otherwise be sedentary at your desk jockey job, can lower insulin levels, a marker for diabetes and heart disease, the study revealed. It’s a concept researchers call “exercise snacking”—bite-size bits of movement that add up to a major punch.
“Even for a single day of exercise snacks, the effect on improved metabolism are immediate,” says Jonathan Little, co-author of the study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Here’s why exercise snacks work: “When we’re sedentary for several hours during the workday, our muscles are not used and our metabolic rate is reduced,” explains Little. “The result is that we can become insulin-resistant. But even as little as one 15-second exercise snack an hour appears to boost sensitivity to insulin such that the muscles and other body tissues can process nutrients more efficiently and our metabolism is improved.”
No stairs in your office? Try running in place, jumping jacks, air squats, skaters, pushups, burpees, or lunges. “Basically, anything that gets your heart pumping counts,” Little says.
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