Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 29 May 2023
  • 11 minute read
Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions

This article contains some affiliate links to resources you may find helpful, at no extra costs to you. All opinions are my own. 

Living with a chronic illness like fibromyalgia, MS, arthritis and heart disease can make it challenging to move your body freely, let alone do a full-body workout session at the gym. Luckily, recent research shows that fitting so-called ‘exercise snacks’ into your day can be as effective as more traditional exercising.

Exercise snacks are short bursts of physical activity that you can easily fit into your daily schedule. No need for fancy equipment, you can do these 2-minute movements almost anywhere anytime. Now taking the stairs, doing 5 squats on your coffee break or standing on one leg while brushing your teeth doesn’t seem like much physical activity, but all added up, regularly doing exercise snacks throughout the day can really boost your health.

According to an overview study, exercise snacking improves your cardiorespiratory fitness and supports a healthy metabolism. That’s partly because regularly moving your body throughout the day breaks up the damaging effects of sitting. What’s more, exercise snacks stimulate your blood and lymph flow, and can ease your pain by quickly releasing tension from your muscles and joints.

And the best part: you’re probably less likely to experience post-exertional malaise and flare-up of symptoms from tiny bursts of physical activity. Even on days when you don’t have much energy of lack the mobility to leave your home to go to the gym or a physical therapist, you can still sneak some simple exercise snacks in.

And with all that the we know about creating healthy habits, it makes sense to do super short exercises that you can actually stick to, which will build up to significant improvements over time.

You may not get fit, bulk up or lose fat quickly, but gently moving your body in ways you find enjoyable will still activate your muscles and joints, stimulate your circulation, boost your metabolism and support your overall health and happiness.

Of course, always check with your doctor first before starting any new exercise program, especially when you have health problems. 

So let’s see how you can fit a few easy exercise snacks into your days!

Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via pexels.com

24 Exercise Snacks You Can Sneak in Throughout the Day

Meet the expert consultant: Michael Hamlin, CSCS, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and founder of Everflex Fitness.

In the Morning

1. Practice one sun salutation when you get out of bed. This flowing yoga sequence consists of 12 poses that will increase your flexibility, muscle strength and energy levels. If a sun salutation is too taxing for your body, start your morning with gently loosening up your spine with Cat/Cow stretches and lying spinal twists.

2. Do calf raises while waiting for your tea or coffee to brew. Place your feet under your hips, with your toes pointing forward. Raise your heels until you’re standing on your tip-toes, before gently lowering yourself again. You can hold onto the counter for stability if necessary. Mix it up with knee bends for more variation.

3. Heading out the door? Try this fun balance exercise from dr. Kelly Starrett, author of Build to Move: Put your socks and if you can even your shoes on while standing on one foot. You can use any strategy you like to get the job done, as long as you keep your balance.

4. Start your day with a 5-minute brisk walk. When you feel well enough, park further away from work, the shops or doctor’s office so you can squeeze in a short stroll. Walking may be a low-impact exercise, but it still improves your heart health, mood and energy levels. So even when your fitness level is low right now, try to stretch your legs multiple times a day and see if you can gradually increase your step count in enjoyable ways.

5. Stuck in bed today? If you can, try to rotate your ankles, wrists and shoulders every hour. Also flex and stretch your feet to stimulate much-needed blood flow in your lower legs. You could even rest in Child’s Pose or Happy Baby Pose to comfortably change positions and gently release tension from your back, hips and cramped muscles.

Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions
Photo by Andrea Piaquadio via pexels.com

During the Day

6. Practice active sitting throughout the day. Sadly, sitting in our chairs for many hours a day puts a lot of stress on our neck and back – especially if we slouch. And when your leg muscles are inactive for an extended time, your circulation slows, causing your metabolism to shut down. So sit on an exercise ball behind your desk for 30 mins or take a seat on the floor when watching TV. This poster from Nutritous Movement shows you 53 chair-free positions from all around the world.

7. Turn your household chores into exercise snacks. Do 5 to 10 squats when you’re picking up laundry to hang or fold, practice a few lunges while vacuuming, or gently twist your upper body as you’re cleaning the kitchen counter for a quick core workout. You can find more inspiration in these videos from Two Minute Moves.

8. Walk backwards. If you can do so safely – without objects in your path, on a non-slippery surface – challenge your brain and body by walking backwards every now and then. Sounds strange, I know. But because reverse walking requires much more attention than your normal forward walking, it can ‘reset’ your gait, increase the range of motion of your joints and muscles, and improve your balance and stability.

9. Need a (work) break? Before grabbing a drink and snack, do a seated leg kick, walk around the (home) office or do 5 to 10 pushups against the wall if possible.

10. Feeling lethargic, anxious or mentally stuck during the day? In this video, Jonathan Mead from Embodied Movement shows nourishing movements you can do when your body’s sending you signals about your inner life, to help you (literally) move through these emotions in a healthy way.

11. Take the stairs when you can. According to a 2019 study into exercise snacks, simply climbing and descending 3 flights of stairs 3 times a day during 3 days a week already improves your cardiorespiratory fitness after 6 weeks.

12. When it’s time to shut down your computer for the day, do a few ‘desk stretches’. Even if you’ve just been writing emails on your bed, working on a keyboard often leads to poor posture. So open up your shoulders and stretch your back with these 5 seated exercises. You could also ease your tech-neck with this head ramp exercise or soothe your phone-scrolling hands with special hand stretches.

Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk via pexels.com

In the Evening

13. Got kids or pets who need to blow off some steam? Grab a ball for a few minutes of throw and catch. If you struggle with mobility, you can even do this seated down and let them bring the ball back to you. And as these videos from EverFlex Fitness show, bouncing a (medicine) ball against the wall or off the floor can also serve as a fun exercise snack!

14. Waiting for dinner to cook? Sneak in one of these simple weight-bearing exercise snacks from Her Garden Gym – like marching in place, small bounces, single foot stamping and heel drops – to support bone health and prevent fractures as you age.

15. Work on your core while watching TV with glute bridge exercises with alternating leg kicks. This exercise snack is a variation of the traditional glute bridge exercise that targets the glutes (buttocks), hamstrings and core muscles. It can be done almost anywhere with little to no equipment. Here’s a brief description from Michael Hamlin of how to perform it:

“Lie on your back on an exercise mat or the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the ground, hip-width apart. Your arms should be resting by your sides with palms facing down. Engage your core muscles by drawing your belly button towards your spine. Press your feet into the ground and lift your hips off the floor, pushing through your heels. Maintain a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

Once you’re in the bridge position, extend your right leg straight out in front of you. Aim to lift your leg as high as is comfortable while maintaining control. Your right shin should be in line with your torso at the top of the movement. Pause for a moment, then lower your right leg back to the starting position. Repeat the leg kick motion with your left leg, extending it out and kicking upwards. Continue alternating leg kicks for the desired number of repetitions or time duration.”

16. Practice getting up from the ground without using your hands. It may look easy, but research among people between 50 and 80 years old indicates that the ability to sit and rise from the floor is linked to your longevity. So work on your muscle strength, balance and mobility by regularly practicing getting up and down from the ground. You can catch two birds with one stone by getting used to actively sit on the floor – playing with your kids, watching a movie – and then trying one of these five natural ways to get up from the ground without using your hands.

17. Chilling on the couch? Lie on your side with your knees bent and legs together to do a ‘clam shell’ as exercise snack. While keeping the sides of your feet touching each other, raise your top leg as high as you comfortably can, and then lower back down. This will work your thighs and open up your hips. Turn around to repeat on other side.

18. Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth. You could simply raise one foot of the floor or do a version of Tree Pose to improve your balance and ankle stability. Move onto your other feet midway through your tooth brushing session to exercise both sides of your body. Alternatively, you could also sit in a deep squat – like a toddler would – during those two minutes.

Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions
Photo by cottonbro studio via pexels.com

On the Weekend

19. Celebrate the weekend with a living room dance party. During one song, dance your heart out – even if you’re only able to swing your arms, tap your feet and/or bop your head! This also works great to get your energy up and boost your mood whenever you need a quick pick-me-up during the day.

20. Go barefoot. Next time you’re headed to the park, beach or simply the garden, you might want to take your shoes off. Barefoot walking on safe, natural surfaces like short grass or sand can strengthen your feet and improve your stability. Thanks to sensing the slight variations in underground, the muscles and ligaments in your feet, ankles and legs will need to work a little harder. Perfect way to sneak in some very gentle exercising without much effort! You could also check out Katy Bowman’s guide ‘Whole Body Barefoot’ packed with exercise stop help you restore your foot function.

If you have diabetes and/or peripheral neuropathy, walking barefoot may not be a wise choice for you, so please consult your doctor first.

21. Have you reached a pretty good fitness level? Jump rope for 1 to 3 minutes, do a few jumping jacks, run in place during one song or bounce a few minutes on a mini trampoline as a fun exercise snack. Studies suggest that high intensity interval training can give you many of the benefits of longer exercise sessions, so if you’re able, you could even fit in this science-backed 7-minute workout to boost your endurance.

22. Embrace your inner child. There’s no easier way to add fun exercise snacks to your day than to ask yourself: What would I do if I were still a kid? Expand your movement repertoire by skipping for a minute or play one round of hopscotch. Enrich your normal walks by jumping on or over obstacles on your path, picking flowers and searching for chestnuts. If you’re able to, you could even improve your strength and mobility by doing (modified) animal crawls or hang on the monkey bars at the playground – both are surprisingly good for you.

23. In the mood for binge-watching your favorite series? Create your own – doable! – workout challenge, like doing one round of leg scissors when anytime someone says ‘McDreamy’ on Grey’s Anatomy, performing 1-5 crunches whenever a head gets slapped in NCIS or doing one squat when a Friends character enters Central Perk. Take inspiration from these 43 TV workouts to modify exercise snacks suitable for your fitness level.

Exercise Snacks: 24 Ways to Fit in Tiny Bursts of Activity Throughout the Day | The Health Sessions
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24. Relax with some nighttime yoga. Let go of tension in your muscles and calm your mind by putting your legs up against the wall, laying down in Butterfly Pose or simply resting in Savasana. Making one or more yoga poses part of your relaxing bedtime routines can soothe your nervous system and improve your quality of sleep.

Obviously, you do not have to fit all these exercise snacks into your day. Choose one or more doable ways for you to sneak in short bursts of physical activity, that will activate your muscles and metabolism without causing overexertion. Added up over time, doing these small movements regularly can lead to significant improvements in fitness, strength, balance and mobility.

Have you ever tried sneaking exercise snacks into your day? What’s your experience with doing multiple tiny bursts of physical activity? 

For more illness-proof ways to boost your fitness, try these 25 Exciting Ways to Get More Daily Steps In or 10 Outdoor Exercises for All Fitness Levels. 

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