The past year and a half has been a stressful one for many of us, and… despite my best efforts to avoid it, I am not exempt from that stress. As a fitness and healthy living reporter for the better part of the last decade, exercise has been a constant in my life that typically helps me get through the stressful times and bolsters my mental health. But I ran into something alarming during the pandemic months (that likely many of you did as well): I completely “fell off the wagon.” For the first time in years, I had stopped working out.
Researchers have called this the exercise paradox of stress. The author of the 2021 study explains that “Even though exercise comes with the promise of reducing anxiety, many respondents felt too anxious to exercise. Likewise, although exercise reduces depression, respondents who were more depressed were less motivated to get active, and lack of motivation is a symptom of depression.”
An Experts Take on “Exercise Snacking”
I spoke to clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, PsyD, from Dallas, TX; he’s an avid exercise enthusiast, cyclist, and triathlete. Not only has Dr. Gilliland witnessed his patients experience this conundrum, but he’s experienced it first hand, too.
Seeing the data was validating, and hearing that a mental health professional had experienced this cemented that validation further. I wasn’t the only person who went from an hour of Pilates, Spin, yoga, or walking (every day!) to feeling totally zapped and glued to the sofa. I knew exercise would make me feel better, but I couldn’t muster the drive to get up and at ‘em.
I asked Dr. Gilliland what to do about this and if he had any advice based on what he’d personally experienced. His tip? “Start small.” He empathized, knowing that for someone who was used to long workouts, a 15 (or even five!) minute workout might feel pointless. “I know it might feel like ‘Why bother?’” he said. But there is a point, and it’s a big one. This helps you build momentum again.
Enter: exercise snacking.
Instead of concentrating all your physical energy into one gloriously sweaty 45- or 60-minute workout, you “snack” on shorter sweat sessions throughout the day. If you’re just getting started, you could even choose just one short workout. The key is to make it small and accessible, so you’re less intimidated, less inclined to skip altogether, and more likely to just get it done.
Benefits of “Exercise Snacking”
Short workouts pack a punch — and don’t just take my word for it. A study on short bursts of exercise found that 12-minute sessions can help regulate insulin resistance, stress, inflammation and may even add to your lifespan.
Another study found that a single minute of intense exercise embedded in a 10-minute routine can improve your health; yet another showed that breaking exercise into smaller chunks is just as effective as doing it all at once (i.e., 3 rounds of 10-minute workouts can equate to a 30-minute workout). And lest we forget all the scientifically proven benefits of HIIT.
It doesn’t have to be a crazy aggressive HIIT workout, though; walking works just fine, too, according to the American Heart Association.
Beyond the physiological benefits of short workouts, there’s a crucial psychological aspect here we nodded to earlier: lowering the barrier to entry. Whether it’s been a while since you’ve worked out, you haven’t been feeling yourself lately, you’re recovering from an injury, or you’re new to working out entirely, these short workouts are WAY less intimidating and allow you to build strength and motivation while feeling that little burst of dopamine from getting a workout done, no matter how long it is.
Alright, so I tried it myself — here’s what my week looked like! (lots of Quick Hits from the FitOn repertoire!). I planned a mix of workouts, walks, and exercise moves that were calling to me from the app but was able to adapt based on schedule changes, too.
30 minute morning walk with my dog
10-minute FitOn workout
5-minute FitOn booty booster
Daily Recap: This was such a peaceful beginning to the week, but I still got a great workout! I started by walking with my dog down to the beach in our neighborhood and running around a little bit with her on the sand before walking home. I took a midday break to do a Long and Lean Pilates-style workout for 10 minutes and ended the day with a 5-minute butt workout that was surprisingly satisfying for being such a quick session! Even though these were little workouts, it felt like such a big step.
3 minutes of squats while brushing my teeth
10-minute FitOn recovery day yoga
Daily Recap: This was my lightest day of exercise the whole week. Between a doctor’s appointment, deadlines, and other obligations, it was especially tough to squeeze a workout in, so I did some squats while my electric toothbrush was going (three minutes!) and a 10-minute yoga flow before bed. Vytas has such a great message in this flow about taking time to recover and rest, so I ended up feeling much better about my busy day — and it felt so good to just get some form of movement in, even if it’s just 10 minutes. There was a real sense of satisfaction. (Plus, I realized how tight my legs were… big wake-up call!)
15 minute morning walk with my dog
22-minute FitOn Pilates workout at lunch
5-minute FitOn full-body workout in the evening
Daily Recap: By day three, I was feeling super proud of myself; I was consistent, trying different kinds of exercise and logging different workouts throughout each day. I started with my standard morning walk, and at lunch, I paused to do one of Cassey Ho’s Pilates routines (she’s been one of my fav trainers for about a decade; I always love her classes!). It quite literally kicked my butt… those bands are no joke!! I squeezed in a final five minutes with Caroline at the end of the day for a full-body workout, and was feeling satisfied and rewarded (yes, even with burpees).
15-minute FitOn yoga flow
15 minute afternoon walk with my dog
5 minute FitOn Quickie Abs
Daily Recap: I usually walk my dog in the mornings, but this time I decided to wake up with a morning yoga flow (sidebar: this particular flow with Elise Joan is such a beautiful way to start your day!). I kept the little bit of a switch up by getting out for some fresh air at lunch — a really nice way to relieve my brain from so much screen time while working! Before I made dinner, I took five minutes to do a quick ab workout with Kenta. Not gonna lie, I despise crunches, but knowing how quick this workout was, I was able to psych myself up and get through it. After all, it’s only five minutes of working out!! (I also realized I could’ve even done this workout WHILE cooking; my cauliflower gnocchi steamed for eight minutes… pretty crazy, right?)
15-minute morning walk
6-minute FitOn yoga before bed
Daily Recap: At this point, the consistency had me riding an emotional high, and I was starting to feel the effects of this positive momentum physically. I did my standard walk in the morning. Before bed, I did another quick yoga sesh with Vytas; the stretching and hip opening was really soothing and totally got me ready for some deep sleep.
15-minute re-spin Halle Berry workout
Daily Recap: I overslept this day and was unable to make it out for my morning walk, and then had to shift around my workout plans; I was so frazzled, but I ended up getting two little “exercise snacks” in any way! I’ve always known that Halle Berry works out really hard (have you seen her IG?), so I was pretty intimidated, but this workout was the perfect combination of intense but manageable. And given the science around just *one* intense minute of exercise being beneficial, these minute-at-a-time (intense!) moves were perfect. I went on a 20-minute walk in the afternoon to keep the blood flowing, the heart pumping, the muscles loose, and the mind refreshed. The sun and sea breeze were so soothing.
10-minute KINRGY Aether Connecting workout
17-minute FitOn walking workout
4-minute FitOn meditation before bed
Daily Recap: By the end of the week, I just felt so grateful and so proud of myself for sticking to something healthy for an entire seven days, every single day. My grand finale workouts included a KINRGY session for 10 minutes with Julianne Hough (way better than scrolling through email and social media for 10 minutes in the morning). This workout was confusing to me for about 30 seconds before it clicked; once I got into it, it was so cool… truly felt just like free expression, free movement, energetic flow… and it was still a surprisingly tough cardio workout! It felt so good to just move. Later that day, I tried an at-home “walking workout” (low impact!) and a meditation before bedtime to close the week. I chose the “I am enough” meditation with DeAndre, and it made me realize… These short workouts are enough, too!
Some context about my usual fitness schedule: as I nodded to earlier, I come from a “workout hard for an hour every day” mentality. More recently (pre-pandemic slump) I’ve chilled out, and I scaled back to working out once a day, five to six times a week. Still, when I work out, it’s usually for an hour. Because of this, I assumed that I might be somewhat resistant to quick workouts.
But, deciding to try exercise snacking instead of jumping straight back into those hour-long workouts was the perfect plan; These small doses of movement were just what the doctor ordered. It’s probably obvious from the daily logs that this experiment was exceptionally helpful… and healthy! And to be honest, I’m not totally surprised that this week was a success; all signs were pointing to this being a great way to get back into exercise, improve energy levels, and feel healthy and active again. My wellbeing and mood were boosted, I have more gusto when I wake up, more vigor throughout the day.
My biggest takeaways:
Compound mood boosts. Each completed workout — five minutes or 30 minutes — felt like an accomplishment. Stacking multiple accomplishments per day was excellent for my mood, sense of wellbeing, and ability to keep it going throughout the week. The satisfaction of completing a task on my list, combined with the joy of movement, was able to beget a more successful week… like a snowball effect of success!
A little goes a long way. I felt like each workout was effective; even the shortest ones had me feeling the burn.
Flexibility is key. The flexibility of exercise snacking let me adapt to even the craziest days and schedules, so I was more able to keep to my commitment to exercise.
Optimize your activities. I discovered that I can combine exercise with different activities throughout the day — a quick workout while food is cooking, a class with the same runtime as a favorite sitcom, squats while brushing teeth, etc.
Build strength, not frustration. Sometimes, when you’ve been off your game for a while, it can be frustrating to get tired or sore more quickly and easily than what you’re used to. By keeping these workouts short, you don’t get too frustrated; you won’t have the chance to feel like giving up halfway through an hour-long class if you’re only working out for 10 or 15 minutes! This allows you to build strength and confidence.
Ready to Try Exercise Snacking For Yourself?
Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey or are looking to get back into a routine, short bursts of movement may be a great way to get that motivation flowing! If you haven’t joined our community yet, sign up for free and get access to unlimited free workouts, with classes of various lengths and for all different fitness levels. Pick a few shorter workouts to get you started and see how they leave you feeling. You may be surprised to see that even just a ten-minute workout can leave you feeling energized and ready and excited to press play on your next workout. You got this!