Raise your hand if, lately, you’ve lost all motivation to move. Guess what? You’re not alone. A 2021 study out of McMaster University found that while mental health issues like anxiety and depression prompted some exercise in a quest for stress relief, they proved to be a barrier to physical activity for others. And fitness snacking may just be the solution if you’re ready to repair your relationship with exercise.
Dubbed one of the year’s biggest fitness trends (much to the relief of working mothers and others who are pressed for time), the concept of fitness snacking is hardly new. While bite-sized exercise echoes the patterns of high-intensity interval training, it came into prominence as a result of global lockdowns, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, and the subsequent boom in digital fitness.
For the uninitiated, fitness snacking is defined as short bursts of movement interspersed throughout the day (20 seconds of bodyweight squats, 60 seconds of jumping jacks, climbing a few flights of stairs, or even dancing to Charlie Puth’s “Light Switch”) as opposed to working out for 45 or 60 minutes at a stretch. If it elevates your heart rate, it counts. Bonus: activewear is optional. Admittedly, this approach feels more timely than ever, especially as working from home has become the norm for so many of us.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is thinking that they need to exercise in a certain way to be fit,” says sport and exercise psychology consultant Hannah Winter, emphasising that there are countless ways in which people can bring movement into their day-to-day lives. “I often hear people say that they ‘should go to the gym’ or ‘should run’ – only to find out they hate the gym or running. One of the most important things is to find the type of exercise you enjoy. If an individual found that short bursts of exercise were something they enjoyed and could stick to, I would be supportive.”
What’s more, the pandemic has made such short bursts more accessible than ever. “There are numerous fitness professionals providing short, equipment-free workouts through social media and apps that people can do in the comfort of their own home, thereby lowering the barrier to entry for people to get into fitness.” Part of Hannah’s role involves assisting individuals with their mindset in order to achieve their goals, so she’s also on the ‘start small’ bandwagon.
“I would encourage anyone getting started on their health journey or returning to exercise after a long time to start with realistic goals. The objective should be to build some simple keystone habits that, over time, become routine and form a solid foundation from which to build upon. The mind can become an obstacle at first. Thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I am not an exerciser’ can be overwhelming, but breaking fitness down into manageable objectives can make it more achievable. And once you start seeing that you can do it, you realise that your mental narrative isn’t true. The reality is that achieving any goal comes from small daily actions that, over time, yield results.”
Incidentally, Hannah’s clients include not only elite athletes, coaches, and personal trainers, but also recreational exercisers of all abilities. Explaining who would benefit most from this approach, she says, “If someone was to have work, family, or caring responsibilities that prevented them from fitting longer forms of exercise into their day, fitness snacking could be a great fit. It also could be a good option for someone who is lacking motivation or has struggled to maintain consistent exercise habits.”
People often take on too much, she says, only to discover it’s impossible to sustain. “If someone is looking to start engaging in regular exercise, I would encourage them to start with some small, easy-to-do steps to build in the habit and then gradually increase over time. Lastly, it could be a great option for someone who is just getting started on their health journey or slowly returning to exercise after a long time.” As for those days that call for more snacking than fitness snacking? Forgive yourself – and reach for the Cheetos instead.