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Sedentary behavior is associated with an increased risk of many chronic diseases. Evidence suggests that “exercise snacks” – brief, isolated intervals of vigorous exercise, each lasting less than one minute and typically performed multiple times throughout the day – may counter the harmful effects of sedentary behavior. A 2022 study found that vigorous stair-climbing increased participants' peak oxygen uptake by approximately 5 percent.

The study involved 24 healthy, sedentary young adults. For six weeks, half of the participants engaged in three bouts of vigorous stair climbing (60 steps in a three-flight stairwell) daily, with one to four hours of rest in between, three days a week. The other half did not participate in any training. Researchers measured the participants' peak oxygen uptake and power output before and after the intervention.

At the end of the intervention, the stair-climbing participants' peak oxygen uptake had increased by approximately 5 percent, and peak power output increased by 12 percent. Participants maintained a consistent rate of perceived exertion of 5, indicating a “hard” level, and their heart rate remained relatively stable at approximately 85 percent of the age-predicted maximum.

These findings suggest that integrating brief periods of intense exercise into one’s daily routine can improve cardiorespiratory fitness in sedentary adults. They also align with previous research showing that exercise snacks improve insulin sensitivity in people with insulin resistance.

A key benefit of exercise snacks is that they eliminate the need for specialized equipment and the scheduling of leisure time for structured exercise. They are easily integrated into everyday activities, whether inserting short bursts of activity between tasks or incorporating them into daily routines at home, work, or school. Exercise snacks can also reduce blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Learn more in this clip featuring Dr. Martin Gibala.

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