Woman exercising in living room

Fitness snacks: Working out when you have no time

By Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N Feb 27, 2023 • 3 min

It can be intimidating to add an exercise routine into your life. The barriers can vary — some of us struggle to find time, while others don’t want a long workout that leaves you all sweaty on the floor. But there’s an answer: fitness snacks. Sometimes called exercise snacks or VILPA (vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity), these bite-sized activities have been shown in studies to add up to significant health benefits.

Small bursts of activity

Research suggests inactive adults can improve their health by substituting 30 minutes per day of sedentary time with movement, even light movement, like walking. Although traditional recommendations advised aiming for at least 10 minutes of exercise at a time, some studies show that even one to five minutes is beneficial, as long as total nonsedentary time still adds up to 30 minutes per day.

Another study found that two or more instances of vigorous exercise equaling just three to four minutes per day may help reduce the chance of dying from heart disease, cancer or other health problems. Instead of structured exercise in a gym or fitness class, these included everyday activities, like carrying heavy shopping bags, running to the car or simply taking the stairs instead of an elevator. Every amount of movement helps, but it should not replace a more comprehensive exercise program on a regular basis.

What counts as a fitness snack?

Bite-sized movements are a great way to take short breaks to refresh your body and mind. Don’t overthink it; just try to move more.

Examples of exercise snacks include:

  • A set of jumping jacks: Set a timer and see how long it takes before you’re out of breath
  • Bodyweight squats: Too easy? Try adding free weights or resistance bands
  • Butt kickers: Work your way up to multiple sets throughout the day
  • High knees: Engage your core to pull your knees up as high as you can
  • Walking lunges: Measure how far you can go while maintaining good form
  • Active play with children: Set up an obstacle course, toss a balloon or get active on the playground
  • Running while doing errands: Park further from the store or skip the car altogether and walk

Using a wearable device to monitor your daily activity can help you achieve more spontaneous activity each day, especially when you don’t have time for a longer workout. Challenge yourself by setting a timer and upping the intensity over time. Just be sure to check with your healthcare provider before increasing your exercise level. Short bursts of activity make the goal of living an active lifestyle more accessible than ever.

Published February 2023.