Sit a lot? Activity ‘snacks’ counter the harm and maintain muscle

I don’t know about you, but I’m big on snacks.

I love munching on vegetables and hummus during my afternoon break, or popcorn and spiced nuts while watching a TV show.

As hard as I try to keep these snacks healthy, indulging too much or too often can still lead to weight gain.

That’s why I’m adding a different flavor of snack to my daily routine — one that also addresses another health danger many of us face nowadays….

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The benefits of activity ‘snacks’

There’s a raft of research that proves how bad too much sitting is for your health. A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other issues. It also raises your risk of premature death.

When you sit for prolonged periods, it hurts the body’s ability to process fats and filter sugar from the blood following a meal. Blood flow slows down, allowing fatty deposits to build up in the blood vessels. Your bones and muscles also grow weaker.

Unfortunately, a lot of us have jobs that require us to sit for extended periods of time. Add in all the sitting we do in our cars and homes, and it’s a recipe for health problems.

This is where activity “snacks” come in…

Research shows that interrupting prolonged sitting with short, periodic bursts of activity may help maintain muscle mass and quality. And the good news? It doesn’t take much to make a big difference!

For instance, interrupting long periods of sitting every 30 minutes with two minutes of moderate-intensity walking or 15 sit-to-stand squats from a chair allows the body to use more of the amino acids from your meals. This builds new muscle proteins to help repair or replace old or damaged proteins. It also improves the body’s ability to clear the sugar we consume.

Another good time to snack on activity is right after a meal. Researchers note that moving after we eat can improve our nutrition and allow for more efficient use of dietary amino acids from smaller meals or lower-quality proteins.

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Different ‘snacks’ for different situations

Need even more incentive to add short bursts of activity to your day?

According to Matthew Ahmadi, PhD, of the University of Sydney, Australia, lead author of a study published in European Health Journal, “… accumulating vigorous activity in short bouts across the week can help us live longer. Given that lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier to regular physical activity, accruing small amounts sporadically during the day may be a particularly attractive option for busy people.”

So, if you spend the majority of your day sitting, try out activity “snacks.” They’re a lot better for you than chips or candy, and they’ll help you kick that excuse about not having time to exercise to the curb.

Of course, there’s a chance you may work in an office where you can’t walk away from your desk every 30 minutes. If that’s the case, definitely try doing 15 of those body-weight sit-to-stand squats every 30 minutes instead of going for a walk. You can do the squats right from your office chair, and they may even take less than two minutes (I timed it).

You may be someone who needs more variety in their workout. Luckily, you can find plenty of two-minute workouts online that go way beyond squats. This two-minute video mixes squats with other moves to make up a quick full-body routine that’ll keep you from getting bored.

If you are able to get away from your desk but find 30-minute interruptions to be too frequent, you can try taking a two-minute walk every hour. Walking for two minutes for every hour you’re awake (about 16 hours a day) will help you burn an extra 400 calories every week and help keep your blood flowing and muscles strong.

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Activity ‘snacks’ following meals may help maintain muscle mass: Study — University of Toronto

Walking or body weight squat “activity snacks” increase dietary amino acid utilization for myofibrillar protein synthesis during prolonged sitting — Journal of Applied Physiology

How Sitting Too Much Can Lead to Heart Disease — Beaumont Health

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.