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I tried 'exercise snacking' for a week and here's why I'm going to keep doing it

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Exercise snacking has nothing to do with eating chips during a SoulCycle class.

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It simply means doing short bursts of exercise throughout the day. The extra movement may be as effective as taking a spin class or doing sprints on your own, some experts say.

As someone whose job requires sitting at a desk all day, the research caught my eye. I have found that even though I’m active after work (diligently attending a group fitness class daily) I have a hard time pulling myself away from my desk.

I’m answering emails, writing a story, on the phone and poof, the day is over and I realize (and my body tells me) that I have barely moved all day.

For one week I committed to climbing three flights of stairs three times a day at work, the same type of stair climbing examined in a headline-making study recently published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

Brad Warsh and Y7 Studio
Stairs are pictured in Y7 Studio in the Upper East Side neighborhood of New York City.

The study found that its test group of sedentary adults who climbed a three-flight staircase three times a day – with a one- to four-hour break between each climb – were stronger and fitter at the end of the six-week study than the control group who did not climb stairs.

(MORE: Kathy Bates credits ‘mindfulness’ for her 60-pound weight loss: Can it work for you?)

I started my exercise snacking routine on a Monday, a day I was not bounding in with energy to say the least.

Around 9 a.m., when I would have usually hopped in the elevator to go up three stories to the office café, I instead found myself in the stairwell, climbing three flights of stairs.

PHOTO: Climbing three flights of stairs three times a day made an impact.ABC
Climbing three flights of stairs three times a day made an impact.

Even though I work out, I had to take a break about midway through and huffed and puffed way more than I would have liked. I climbed the three flights in one minute and 46 seconds.

After I reached the top though, I immediately felt better and proud of myself for doing it. I climbed down the three flights of stairs too.

The rest of the week went by much the same. I would think, “Do I really have to do this?” But, much like working out, once I got myself to the stairwell and climbed the stairs, I was always glad I did.

I never set an alarm to remind myself, but maybe I should have because I did miss a few climbs, particularly the third climb of the day as I was trying to finish my work.

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What amazed me was the thought I had nearly every time: that I couldn’t possibly pull myself away from my desk. Climbing three sets of stairs takes less than two minutes and I always returned to my desk having not missed much.

That was my biggest takeaway from the week — that taking these kinds of short breaks throughout the day did not impact my work but instead made me feel better physically and mentally which, in turn, made my work better.

I also noticed feeling more in control of my breath in my workout classes. My legs felt more sore, which I attributed to my workouts, but now realize I can put some of the blame, or credit, for that on exercise snacking too.

On Friday, after climbing more than 30 flights of stairs, I walked up another three sets of stairs at 9 a.m., the exact same time as Monday. This time I clocked in at one minute and one second, shaving a full 45 seconds off of my time.

I’ll definitely keep snacking

I am on board with the exercise snacking trend and have made stair climbing a habit.

I’ve found it actually adds to my productivity because I return to my desk more alert. It also breaks up my day and allows me to focus for a period of time on a task knowing that I’ll have this break coming up.

I’ll check my time occasionally to see how I’m progressing, but I’ve also tried to leave my phone at my desk so it gives me at least a minute or two away from a screen. A mini-meditation is how I’ve come to look at each “snack” break.

PHOTO: Stairs are pictured in Y7 Studio in the SOHO neighborhood of New York City.Brad Warsh and Y7 Studio
Stairs are pictured in Y7 Studio in the SOHO neighborhood of New York City.

On days when I know I will be busy, I’ll set a timer for myself so I don’t forget to get up every few hours.

The six-week study that piqued my interest in exercise snacking found that stair-climbing “snacks” improved cardiorespiratory fitness (a measure of how well your body transports and absorbs oxygen) and strength.

Researchers said they want to keep looking into whether shorter breaks between “snacks” can improve cardiorespiratory fitness even more, and what the breaks can do to health factors like blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

If stairs are not an option for you at work, there are still ways to incorporate exercise snacks at a lesser intensity, whether it is a walk down the hall, squats or yoga moves at your desk or simply standing up and stretching for an energy boost.

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