How evidence-based “exercise snacks” can combat sedentary lifestyles

Keep reading to learn more about these quick, cost-effective, evidence-based exercises to break up prolonged sitting.

What are “exercise snacks”?

A newer concept for evidence-based exercises, called “exercise snacks” or “activity snacks,” is gaining traction for helping improve health outcomes for patients with sedentary lifestyles. These “snacks,” which involve short bursts of exercises implemented throughout the day, can offer many health benefits without significantly disrupting a patient’s existing daily routines. Studies show that even walking for several minutes at regular intervals throughout the day has been proven to have health benefits.

“Finding the time to exercise is often reported as one of the biggest barriers to implementing a new exercise routine, but exercise snacks can be a quick and simple method to encourage patients toward a healthier lifestyle,” said Nyagon G. Duany, M.D., orthopedic surgeon with “Additionally, exercise snacks are cost-effective; they do not require a membership to a gym or workout studio, nor do they have to be high-intensity workouts.”

In this article, we will further explore the health benefits of exercise snacks and provide several ideas to share with your patients.

Addressing sedentary lifestyles in primary care

Sedentary lifestyles have become increasingly prevalent, with desk jobs and technology-driven conveniences encouraging long periods of sitting. With the many health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, it is important to discuss and promote physical activity and evidence-based exercises in a primary care setting.

Primary care providers can emphasize the importance of incorporating regular movement, such as exercise snacks, to help break up extended periods of sitting and promote overall health and well-being.

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Primary care providers should counsel patients about the benefits of physical activity during office visits, assessing and addressing the patient’s specific barriers to physical activity (most commonly lack of time, knowledge and motivation), and providing basic guidance and education regarding the benefits and need for regular movement and exercise.

According to the study “Promoting Physical Activity in a Primary Care Practice: Overcoming the Barriers,” “Brief counseling is an efficient, effective and cost-effective means to increase physical activity and to bring considerable clinical benefits to various patient populations.”

Simple inquiries about daily activity levels and workplace habits can help tailor recommendations. In addition to providing practical ideas on implementing exercise snacks, emphasizing the evidence-based nature of these activities could help encourage adherence.

Evidence-based exercise and its positive impact on health

Evidence-based exercises are physical activities rooted in scientific research, with a proven efficacy for promoting better health outcomes and enhancing physical health and well-being. Evidence-based exercises can include activities such as walking, simple stretches or quick resistance exercises. They aim to be simple to implement into a person’s existing routines.

How exercise snacks positively impact health

Integrating evidence-based exercise snacks into a daily routine has many health benefits. For example, encourage your patients to incorporate an evidence-based exercise snack during their workday, such as a five-minute walk every half hour. Studies show that these short bursts of physical activity throughout the day can lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, reduce fatigue and enhance mood. When adopted consistently, these practices can contribute to improved cardiovascular health, metabolism and energy levels.

Evidence-based exercise snacks are a simple yet practical solution to combat sedentary lifestyles and break up long periods of sitting. These short, scientifically-backed routines can help patients lead a healthier life. Exercise snacks are beneficial for those with busy schedules and can provide a time-efficient alternative to “finding the time” for working out, challenging the perception that lengthy workouts and gym sessions are the only answer to healthy physical fitness routines.

Understanding the health risks of sedentary behavior

A sedentary lifestyle, characterized by prolonged periods of sitting and minimal physical activity, is a health concern that is linked to negative health outcomes and various chronic conditions. Certain health risks may be prevented by incorporating regular physical activity.

Sedentary lifestyles have been associated with numerous health conditions, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Mental health issues
  • Certain cancers
  • Osteoporosis
  • Reduced life expectancy

Weekly movement recommendations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the following for all healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week
  • For example, brisk walking for 30 minutes, five days per week


  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week
  • For example, jogging for 20 minutes, three days per week


  • Muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week
  • Working all major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, abs, chest, shoulders and arms

Older adults (ages 65 and above) should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity per week; and should incorporate balance exercises into their routines, such as standing on one foot.Bottom of Form

Examples of activity snacks for different patient profiles

Tailoring suggestions for evidence-based exercises can help encourage motivation and adherence to physical activity routines.

Examples of activity snacks based on different patient profiles include:

Sedentary office workers

  • Walking
    • Walking for five minutes every 30 minutes has proven benefits of reducing blood pressure and reducing fatigue. Some workers may not be able to follow this evidence-based exercise. Therefore, tailor recommendations based on the patient’s job restrictions.
  • Desk exercises
    • Encourage simple desk exercises such as seated leg lifts, squats, and neck and shoulder stretches. Jumping jacks also can be done while standing at one’s desk as a cardiovascular boost.
  • Stair climbing
    • Suggest taking short breaks to climb stairs within the office building. This boosts cardiovascular fitness and activates leg muscles.

Older adults or those with mobility challenges

  • Light aerobic activities
    • Low-impact exercises such as brisk walking, stationary cycling or swimming can improve cardiovascular health without putting excessive strain on joints.
  • Balance exercises
    • Daily balance exercises include standing on one leg, heel-to-toe walking or gentle yoga poses. These exercises can help reduce fall risks for the aging population.
  • Seated exercises
    • Certain mobility challenges don’t have to disqualify patients from participating in exercise snacks, such as seated stretches or strength routines. Tailor these recommendations based on the patient’s abilities.

Children and adolescents

  • Classroom movement Breaks
    • Brief breaks for movement can help kids focus and burn off excess energy. Breaks can improve moods in the classroom, in addition to the physical benefits. These breaks may include jumping jacks, dancing, running in place, yoga or stretching.
  • Active games
    • Encouraging active games such as tag, soccer or basketball can improve physical activity and make it fun by “gamifying” recess or classroom breaks.

Motivational strategies for patients

Health care providers can empower patients to initiate and maintain evidence-based exercise snacks in their daily routines through positive messaging and motivational strategies such as:

  • Set realistic goals.
    • Realistic goals build confidence and reduce frustration. Encourage patients to start with small goals that are in reach, such as a daily walk during lunch breaks or several minutes of desk exercises per day.
  • Create a schedule.
    • Suggest a daily schedule that includes specific times for incorporating exercise snacks. Designated times are more likely to encourage adherence. Set timers and reminders.
  • Find enjoyable activities.
    • Encourage patients to choose activities that spark interest. They are more likely to return to an activity if they find some level of enjoyment or fulfillment.
  • Use activity trackers.
    • Using smartphone apps, a smart watch or fitness tracker, or keeping daily logs can help track progress and serve as a motivator.
  • Find an accountability partner.
    • Encourage finding an accountability partner if motivation is lacking. Even if someone is not able to join a patient for an activity, a supportive person who will encourage and celebrate progress can help.

Collaboration with allied health professionals

A collaborative and interdisciplinary strategy supports a patient-centered approach to promoting a healthy and active lifestyle. Actively involving allied health professionals and referring patients to specialized programs like Norton Sports Health can help enhance patient activity levels, goals and habits.

An interdisciplinary approach involving specialists

In addition to a primary care physician, physical therapists, occupational therapists and exercise specialists can provide specialized guidance tailored to patients’ individual needs, providing a comprehensive and personalized approach to enhancing patient activity levels. These members of the health care team can assess patients for mobility challenges or musculoskeletal issues and work on a plan that encourages physical activity, providing safe modifications that work with, versus against, any health issues.

Nutritionists and mental health professionals also can supplement a patient’s needs. This team approach can address different aspects of a patient’s health and lead to a more holistic approach and improvement in well-being.

Referrals for specialized exercise programs

Specialized exercise programs, such as those offered at Norton Sports Health, can cater to various patient profiles and individualized care plans. This may include special programs for older adults, people with chronic conditions or those recovering from specific medical interventions. Working closely with fitness professionals who specialize in these areas helps to ensure patients receive safe exercise recommendations aligned with their unique health needs, goals or restrictions.

The specialists at Norton Sports Health provide medical care and performance training and care for people at any age or skill level, including those who are seeking a supportive environment for improving their physical fitness.

Recapping the benefits of exercise snacks

Incorporating exercise snacks — short bursts of evidence-based exercises — is a simple yet effective strategy for improving a patient’s overall health and well-being. These brief bursts of physical activity, strategically dispersed throughout daily routines, can lead to improved physical and mental health outcomes. These activities are encouraged for anyone, especially those who live more sedentary lifestyles.

Primary care providers serve an important element in preventive care, which underscores the importance of encouraging evidence-based exercises to help reduce health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles. Exercise snacks are a proven, cost-effective and simple approach when empowering patients to include physical activity in their daily routines.

Schedule regular follow-up visits to track your patients’ progress and any changes in their overall health and activity levels. Additionally, referrals to programs such as Norton Sports Health may be beneficial to better support your patients in their physical health journey.



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