On his BBC Radio 4 podcast Just One Thing the former doctor investigated the benefits of exercise snacking, particularly how it can help with type 2 diabetes. Exercise snacking, a fairly new concept, is a method of structuring exercise into short bouts – up to 30 minutes a day.
“Little and often might even be better.”
In a small study of people with type 2 diabetes, researchers compared the effects of half an hour of moderately intense walking before dinner with just six minutes of intense walking, broken up into one minute chunks.
Mosley explained: “The exercise snackers reduced their blood sugar levels after eating not only on that day but also for the 24 hours following.
“The half hour walkers did neither.”
Dr Marie Murphy, Professor of Sport and Exercise Science at Ulster University, explained to Mosley why this type of exercise may benefit type 2 diabetes.
“Exercise uses fuel and that fuel can often be glucose,” she said. “By contracting your muscles you activate some of the enzymes on the muscle membrane that allows the glucose to move the blood across into the muscle and to get used up.
“Getting some of our big muscles, particularly our quads and our glutes, so things like squats and brisk walks, climbing the stairs, those are getting the big muscles active and that puts a demand on our glucose, our blood glucose and it brings down our blood glucose and helps us to regulate it.
“And that mechanism helps us to control our blood sugar and probably helps to reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes in the long run.”
Murphy recommends exercise snacking in 10 minute bouts, but notes there’s recent evidence to suggest almost any length of a bout will count.
She continued: “I guess if you’re trying to be practical about this and you’re trying to get to 30 minutes a day, then I think 10 minutes at a time is probably good to aim for.
“Don’t worry if you can only do it five minutes at a time, I think every bit adds up.
“They key message here, every single minute counts, so even if you’ve only got a minute, you can still use that wisely, to accumulate towards that 30 minute target.”
Small bouts of exercise have been found to have a number of benefits.
In 2019, a large review of studies found that breaking your exercise into bite size chunks was just as beneficial as a single bout of exercise, for both cardiorespiratory fitness and blood pressure.
It was even better for reducing weight, body fat and LDL cholesterol, the ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Mosley concluded: “So it’s not only easier to do it in chunks, it’s actually more effective than a long workout.”