Boost Your Energy with ‘Movement Snacks’: 14 Quick Exercises for a Busy Day
Learn what ‘movement snacks’ are and how you can incorporate them into your day to reduce pain and boost energy.
In the midst of a hectic day filled with back-to-back meetings, looming deadlines, household work, running kids around, and scrolling to-do lists, it's easy for exercise to get deprioritized. Not to mention muscle and joint aches and pains that may make exercise challenging.
Enter the power of what Hinge Health physical therapists call movement snacks. Whether it’s a busy schedule or pain that makes longer exercise sessions difficult — even impossible — movement snacks can be a key to your success in staying active. Read on to learn about several movement snacks you can try throughout your day to keep your body and mind refreshed.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
What Are ‘Movement Snacks’?
"A snack is a very small meal in between big meals that helps quell your hunger. And a movement snack is similar — a very small amount of movement to give your body a break from rest,” says Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. The idea behind movement snacks is to counteract the downsides of inactivity (like when you have to sit for prolonged periods of time), such as muscle stiffness, decreased circulation, decreased energy levels, and reduced productivity.
If you have to sit a lot, try not to let that worry you. (Let’s face it — most of us have to sit more than we should.) By “snacking” (with movement, that is) throughout the day, you can improve blood flow, decrease joint stiffness, increase energy levels, enhance focus, and promote overall well-being, largely counteracting the effects of sitting. Sounds pretty good, right?
“One of the secrets to healthy living — and having a healthy body in general — is to move often. It doesn’t need to be much. Even one minute of any type of movement counts towards better health," says Dr. Peterson.
Movement snacks can include a variety of exercises and activities, such as stretching, walking, stair climbing, or quick bodyweight exercises. The goal is to find ways to move your body and engage in physical activity, even if you have limited time or a busy schedule. So whether it's a short stretching routine at your desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or doing a few minutes of high-intensity exercises during your break, movement snacks provide an opportunity to prioritize your physical and musculoskeletal health and break up the monotony of a sedentary day.
Quick Breaks vs. Long Workouts
Perhaps the number-one reason people don’t incorporate more movement snacks into their day is because they think it’s not going to do anything. What difference is one minute really going to make?, you may wonder.
The newest research shows that the benefits of regular exercise are cumulative — it all adds up. You don’t have to exercise for one long, continuous session. You can sneak short bouts of movement into your day and see the same benefits, including:
Enhanced cardiovascular health. Movement snacks that get your heart rate up, such as brisk walking, jogging in place, or jumping jacks, provide cardiovascular benefits that help strengthen your heart and lower your risk of heart disease, according to a 2022 study published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Improved muscle strength. Research shows that movement snacks that involve resistance exercises, such as bodyweight squats, lunges, desk push-ups, and even walking can help improve muscle tone and strength. The more variety you incorporate, the more muscle groups you engage, leading to enhanced endurance and functional strength.
Better flexibility and joint mobility. Movement snacks that incorporate stretching exercises, such as reaching for your toes or performing the hip flexor stretch, can improve flexibility and joint mobility. This can help prevent muscle imbalances, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance overall flexibility and range of motion.
Reduced pain and stiffness. Staying in the same position for too long can contribute to aches and pains, whether you’re sitting, standing, or lying down. Movement snacks that focus on stretching and strengthening exercises can help alleviate muscle tension and reduce the risk of developing issues such as back pain or neck stiffness.
Anxiety relief. Doing something that gets your heart rate up for just 30 seconds has been proven to release “feel-good” chemicals that help create new connections in your brain. This means just one bout of exercise can help improve mood and short-circuit the anxiety-symptom cycle, even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. The more active you are, the greater the anxiety-reducing benefits.
What’s more, movement snacks are particularly beneficial for:
Saving time. Movement snacks are designed to be short and quick, making them ideal for those with busy schedules who may not have time for a full workout. You can easily fit movement snacks into your day without disrupting your workflow or commitments. (No showering necessary!)
Boosting energy and focus. Movement snacks provide a quick burst of physical activity that can help increase your energy levels and improve focus. Engaging in movement stimulates blood flow, delivers oxygen and nutrients to your brain, and activates your muscles. Research suggests this can improve cognitive function, alertness, and productivity, making movement snacks particularly valuable during busy workdays.
Consistency and habit formation. One challenge with longer workouts is maintaining consistency, especially when faced with a busy schedule or joint pain. Movement snacks offer a more manageable approach to staying active consistently, according to research. By integrating short bursts of activity into your routine, you can develop a habit of regular movement, making it easier to stay physically active in the long run.
14 Movement Snacks for a Busy Day
Not sure where to start? The options are endless, but here are a few ideas of ways you can incorporate movement snacks into your day, no matter where you are.
Try a walking meeting: Instead of confining your meetings to the conference room, suggest a walking meeting. Walking while discussing work matters not only adds a physical component to your day but can also boost creativity. If you’re meeting with someone remotely, put your headphones in and walk while you talk.
Take the stairs: Ditch the elevator or escalator and opt for the stairs whenever possible — at the office, mall, or doctor’s office. It's a simple yet effective way to engage your muscles and challenge your cardiovascular health, even if you only have a few minutes to spare.
Active breaks: Whenever you have a break in the day, try replacing time spent scrolling through social media or sitting idle with quick, active exercises. Perform a set of jumping jacks while you wait for a kid’s soccer practice to wrap up. Do high knees between meetings. Or do squats while you wait for dinner to finish cooking. These bursts of activity can boost your mood and leave you feeling more alert and focused.
Stretch breaks: If you find yourself feeling tense or fatigued, take a few minutes to stretch your body. Wherever you are, stand up and stretch your arms overhead, reach for your toes, or perform gentle yoga poses like the child's pose or downward-facing dog. If you can’t stand, try neck rolls, shoulder stretches, wrist stretches, and seated twists to release tension and improve circulation. These stretches help release muscle tension, improve flexibility, and promote relaxation.
Deskercises: Don’t have time to leave your desk? You can still exercise. Try leg extensions, seated leg raises, or glute squeezes while seated at your desk. You can also use an under-desk pedal exerciser for some low-impact cardio while you work.
Take regular standing breaks: Set an alarm or use a timer to remind yourself to take short standing breaks every 30 minutes or so. Stand up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes to break up long periods of sitting. You can also consider using a standing desk, or propping your laptop on a high filing cabinet to stand while you work.
Dance it out: Have a few minutes to yourself at home? Put on your favorite song and dance around for a few minutes. This is a fun and easy way to get your body moving and your heart rate up.
Park farther away: Instead of looking for the closest parking spot, park farther away from your destination. This will give you the opportunity to walk a little farther and increase your daily steps.
Make your commute an active one: If you commute to work or around town, consider biking or walking if possible. Or get off public transportation a few stops early to add more movement to your day.
Take the scenic route: Opt for longer routes when walking between locations, adding more movement to your day.
Keep a resistance band handy: Keep a resistance band at your desk, in the car, next to the couch, or anywhere you’ll see it frequently and use it for quick strength training exercises during breaks in your day.
Challenge your balance: Incorporate balance exercises like standing on one leg or doing calf raises while brushing your teeth or waiting in line at the grocery store, or walk heel to toe around your house.
Power vacuum: Doing chores and household work can certainly be a drag, but you can turn it into a mini workout by picking up the pace. See how fast you can (safely!) go up the stairs carrying a basket of laundry. Try adding squats and lunges to activities that involve bending over. Or just put a little extra “oomph” into scrubbing the bathroom or vacuuming to get your heart rate up.
Tense up. And no, we’re not talking about your stress levels. Rather, when you’re sitting at your desk, watching TV, or doing anything else, squeeze your muscles tight for a few moments. “Clench your fists and arms, squeeze your glutes and thighs, and brace your core,” suggests Dr. Peterson. It’s a quick and easy way to engage a lot of different muscles.
In a busy day filled with constant demands, it's crucial to prioritize your well-being (though we realize this is easier said than done!). Movement snacks offer a convenient way to incorporate exercise and break up your day. By taking short breaks for stretches and active exercises, and making small changes to your daily routine, you can boost your energy, improve focus, and keep your body feeling its best. Remember, even a few minutes of physical activity can make a significant difference in how your joints feel and function throughout the day.
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This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
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