These Activity “Snacks” Help Maintain Muscle

By Jiri Kaloc

Do you need to spend a lot of time exercising to get the health benefits? A new study finds that even very short bouts of activity can be beneficial if they break up long stretches of sitting. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do and how often.

Can short movement breaks combat a lot of sitting?

Sitting at a desk for many hours in a row is something a lot of people working in an office do. And even outside of work, we are all tempted to sit down to chat with family and friends or watch TV, Netflix, YouTube or play video games. Extensive sitting plagues many of us and our bodies don’t like it. A new study wanted to understand whether breaking up prolonged periods of sitting would help protect our muscles and health.

“Prolonged periods of low muscle activity – from sitting, wearing a cast or bed rest – is associated with a loss of muscle mass that occurs in parallel with, or because of, an inability of our muscle to build new proteins after we eat a protein-containing meal,” said study’s lead author Daniel Moore. He also highlighted: “We know that prolonged sedentary periods impair the body’s ability to filter sugar from the blood following a meal.”

To find answers, the research team studied 12 participants (7 men and 5 women) across 3 trials for 7,5 hours each. The subjects were asked to sit for prolonged periods of time and they were interrupted every 30 minutes to do short bouts of walking or body-weight squatting.

Sitting on a chair
Can short movement breaks combat a lot of sitting? © Profimedia

Stand up from your chair 15 times

The study found that the short exercise “snacks” have positive effects on how the body handles sugar.

“Breaking up this sedentary period with brief bouts of activity such as two minutes of moderate-intensity walking or rising and lowering 15 times from a chair (i.e. body weight squats), can improve the way our body clears sugar from our meals,” said Moore.

Similarly, the study also showed that even brief activity that breaks up long periods of sitting allows the body to use more amino acids from food to build muscle proteins.

“Our results highlight the importance of breaking up prolonged sedentary periods with brief activity snacks. We believe they also highlight that moving after we eat can make our nutrition better and could allow more dietary amino acids from smaller meals or lower quality types of protein to be used more efficiently,” commented Moore.

Activity “snacks” are good for preventing cardiovascular disease too

Another recent study suggests that short bouts of exercise may offer even more benefits. The researchers concluded that just 3 to 4 one-minute bursts of intense activity during daily tasks are associated with large reductions in the risk of premature death, mainly from cardiovascular disease.

If your office doesn’t provide turbo trainers to hop on in the middle of a workday, you will probably have to make do with body-weight squats. But still, sounds worth it if it protects your muscles and heart!