Despite what the title may imply, this post is not about food. I want to spend a little time delving into the world of "micro workouts" also commonly referred to as exercise snacks. Ever since the first "6 minute abs" workout video, short duration workouts have grabbed the general population's attention and continues to do so now. I assume our hope is that there must be a magical way to get the benefits of exercise without grueling hours in the gym. Many studies recently have proved that yes, as short as a 3 second strength session can improve fitness markers. In this particular study, they had participants strongly flex their biceps for 3 seconds once a day. After a month of doing this 3 second flex, 5 days a week, the participants bicep strength actually increased. There are obvious limitations to this study, but the general finding was promising. Even one short intense muscle contraction a day can lead to strength gains. Well sign me up for the 3 second zoom call and let's call it good! Like anything that seems too good to be true, it usually is. This is a positive result from minimal effort, that I won't deny. However, the benefits of resistance training go far beyond simple strength gains in one particular muscle. For instance, the participants in this study did not put on any muscle mass during the one month trial. As we all know, a huge benefit of resistance training is increasing muscle mass which leads to benefits in metabolism. Add to that point that there is no aerobic component to doing this 3 second contraction and if you tried to contract all your muscles separately for 3 seconds how long would that even take? Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle has led many researchers to study methods that could counteract the ill-effects of sitting all day. In one such study, sedentary college students who spent all day sitting in a lab, were asked to perform bike sprints once an hour throughout their 8 hour day, equaling only 160 seconds of total exercise each day. Pre and post testing of their metabolism was assessed and sure enough, many metabolic markers were positively affected by the short 4 sec once per hour sprint. This was a small, short study, but it paved the way for future studies to be conducted on the possible positive effects of short bursts of activity during an otherwise sedentary work/school day.
In another study, scientists recruited older adults (50-68 yrs old) that were not physically fit and had them complete 4 second max effort bike sprints 15-30 times once a day, three days a week over the course of two months. On average, all riders increased their fitness markers by 10% (including increases in muscle mass, leg strength, and reduced arterial stiffness). Additionally, the participants said they enjoyed the workouts and would like to continue them if possible. So even multiple short sprints only once per day, proves beneficial.
These are just a few of the many studies that have been focused on finding out just how little we have to do to gain any sort of physical benefit from an activity or exercise. These results definitely underline one important fact, our bodies need to move! It doesn't have to be a 10 on your effort level everyday, but you need to try to do even small bits of activity throughout your day to keep your body healthy and thriving. The moral of the story is, something is better than nothing, so always do something even if it's only for 3 seconds.