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Don’t work out as much as you should? You are not alone!  According to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, more than 60 % of Americans are not meeting the guidelines for physical activity (1). In Sweden, the situation is better, with about 40 % of Swedes not exercising regularly (2). 

Despite the known risks of physical inactivity, many people struggle to meet exercise guidelines (3). When most people think of exercise, they think about going to the gym, which requires dedicated time, equipment, and a gym membership.

Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is considered the biomarker of ultimate health, as we discussed here. So, is there anything that could be done to increase it if one does not have the time to exercise in a controlled environment such as a fitness center? 

How much physical activity is recommended?

According to the latest Guidelines of the World Health Organization, adults aged 18-64 (4): 

– Should engage in at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or a combination of both, weekly. 

– Muscle-strengthening activities targeting major muscle groups should be done on 2 or more days a week at moderate or greater intensity for added health benefits.  

– Additional benefits can be achieved with more aerobic activity.  

– Reducing sedentary time is advised, replacing it with any level of physical activity. Exceeding the recommended levels above is encouraged to counteract the adverse effects of prolonged sedentary behavior on health.  

We want to bring up a new approach on how to increase your CRF.

Recognizing the health benefits of breaking up sedentary time, a new concept called “exercise snacks” has emerged (3). Exercise snacks involve brief, vigorous bouts of exercise incorporated into daily activities, making them accessible and convenient. They enhance CRF, and naturally reduce prolonged sitting, mitigating its adverse health effects. 

While current research on exercise snacks is primarily in the proof-of-concept stages, it emphasizes the potential of this approach to increase physical activity and improve cardiometabolic health in the general population. The current WHO guidelines have removed the previous recommendations that physical activityshould be performed in greater than or equal to 10-minute bouts and recommends reducing sedentary time and replacing it with physical activity of ANY intensity (4). 

This article summarizes key findings and supports the idea that exercise snacks are a practical, well-received, and time-efficient means of enhancing CRF and counteracting sedentary-related health risks.

What is an exercise snack?

The term “exercise snacks” was initially introduced by Dr. Howard Hartley in a 2007 News magazine article, and it gained scientific recognition when a 2014 study by Francois et al. demonstrated the benefits of intermittent, brief, vigorous-intensity walking for glycemic control in individuals with insulin resistance (5). While the original study involved 11-minute exercise sessions, more recent research has defined exercise snacks as isolated bouts of vigorous exercise lasting under a minute, performed multiple times throughout the day (3). 

What is important is that even though the period is very short, it is still exercise, and as such, “it is planned, structured, repetitive, and intended for the purpose of improving cardiometabolic health” (3).

What are the benefits of exercise snacking?

Some of the benefits of exercise snacks include (3)(6), (7):

  • Improved BMI
  • Improved triglycerides
  • Improved glucose levels and insulin sensitivity 
  • Improved CRF 

Below we discuss specific studies related to the benefits of exercise snacking:

  • A study based on data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle study aimed to understand how breaks in sedentary time affect metabolic risk markers (6). The research, involving 168 participantswith a mean age of 53, used accelerometers (wearable devices) to measure sedentary time and breaks in sedentary time. The study found that increased breaks in sedentary time were associated with positive effects on waist circumference, BMI, triglycerides, and 2-hour plasma glucose levels. These findings emphasize the importance of avoiding prolonged periods of uninterrupted sitting and suggest that taking breaks from sitting can be good for health by helping with weight, triglyceride levels, and blood sugar control.
  • Similarly, another study investigated the impact of breaking up prolonged sitting with standing and light-intensity walking versus engaging in structured exercise in 19 participants with type 2 diabetes (7). Theparticipants followed three different routines: one involving extended sitting, another incorporating structured exercise, and the third emphasizing reduced sitting time with additional standing and light-intensity walking.  

    The results showed that breaking sitting with standing and light-intensity walking led to more significant improvements in 24-hour glucose levels and insulin sensitivity compared to structured exercise.

    Although the study is small and the results have not been duplicated, it suggests that for individuals with type 2 diabetes, interrupting sitting with standing and light-intensity walking may be an alternative to structured exercise to promote glycemic control.

It is worth noting that exercise snacks seem to have the greatest benefits for inactive adults (3).

In studies examining exercise snacks’ impact on CRF in inactive adults, the research focused on brief but intense exercise sessions (3). One study involved vigorous stair climbing bouts performed 3 times a day, 3 days a week for 6 weeks. Improvements in CRF, as measured by VO2 peak, in the exercise group was 5 % as compared to control. 

Another study incorporated isolated 20 seconds “all-out” cycling bouts with a warm-up and cooldown 3 times a day (3). Participants (young inactive adults) experienced ~4% improved VO2peak and ~9% enhanced time-trial performance. The intensity of these exercise snacks played a significant role in their effectiveness.

These results indicate that exercise snacks are a viable strategy for boosting CRF and exercise performance in inactive adults. While these participants might not meet traditional physical activity guidelines, the CRF gains from exercise snacks still offer notable health benefits. Additionally, exercise snacks can be tailored to practical and less strenuous settings depending on the individual. 

Examples of exercise snacks 

There are many types of exercise that can be done as snacks. Some of them can be done at home and with no equipment needed. Some examples include (8):

  • Walking in place
  • High-kneed Running in place
  • Stair climbing
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jumping rope
  • Chair squats
  • Lunges
  • Sprints
  • Push-ups

Exercise snacks are a practical alternative to traditional intense training. They can be less strenuous and don’t require specialized equipment, making them a unique subset of brief vigorous exercise.

It is important to keep in mind that exercise snacking is a new concept, and as such many questions still remain (3). Researchers acknowledge the challenge of standardizing this concept due to its sporadic nature, intensity, and distinct characteristics compared to conventional exercise (3). Further research is needed to validate the metrics for exercise snacks and study their long-term effects, feasibility, injury risk, and benefits in different populations. 

The NEM approach

Our clients often ask about what types of exercise they need to do, but there is no “one size fits all” advice. The right type of exercise varies for each individual based on their current fitness, health, and goals.  

While exercise snacking is a relatively new concept and some questions remain, there is no need to wait for absolute evidence to start moving and exercising. Exercise snacks are in harmony with the updated guidelines from the WHO, which no longer require physical activity to be accumulated in 10-minute bouts. These recommendations acknowledge the health benefits of short bursts of physical activity.  

We encourage everyone, especially sedentary individuals and beginners, to incorporate exercise snacking into their routine. This approach is less intimidating and can build both strength and exercise habits. The exact definition of exercise snacks is not crucial; what matters is taking breaks from prolonged sitting and making it a daily routine.  

Always warm up before exercising and consult a doctor if you have underlying health conditions.  


Silviya Demerzhan, Ph.D.

Chief Scientific Officer, Nordic Executive Medicine
Medical review by: Dr. Mahir Vazda MD


1. Abildso CG. Prevalence of Meeting Aerobic, Muscle-Strengthening, and Combined Physical Activity Guidelines During Leisure Time Among Adults, by Rural-Urban Classification and Region — United States, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Nov 1];72. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/wr/mm7204a1.htm

2. Physical activity – The Public Health Agency of Sweden [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2023 Nov 10]. Available from: https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/the-public-health-agency-of-sweden/living-conditions-and-lifestyle/physical-activity/

3. Islam H, Gibala MJ, Little JP. Exercise Snacks: A Novel Strategy to Improve Cardiometabolic Health. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2022 Jan;50(1):31. 

4. Physical activity [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 1]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity

5. Francois ME, Baldi JC, Manning PJ, Lucas SJE, Hawley JA, Williams MJA, et al. ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia. 2014 Jul 1;57(7):1437–45. 

6. Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Salmon J, Cerin E, Shaw JE, Zimmet PZ, et al. Breaks in Sedentary Time: Beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care. 2008 Apr 1;31(4):661–6. 

7. Duvivier BMFM, Schaper NC, Hesselink MKC, van Kan L, Stienen N, Winkens B, et al. Breaking sitting with light activities vs structured exercise: a randomised crossover study demonstrating benefits for glycaemic control and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2017 Mar;60(3):490–8. 

8. Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 31]. How To Work ‘Exercise Snacks’ Into Your Day. Available from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/exercise-snacks/