A person doing squats in their living room.

Want a Healthy Snack? Try a Few Minutes of Squats

We all sit too much. You're probably sitting right now. But it turns out that activity "snacks" (i.e. short exercise bursts) can do a world of good.


We know that prolonged periods of sitting and sedentary behaviour aren’t good for our physical health, but for many of us, these sedentary periods are difficult to avoid. Thankfully, a new study has found one simple habit that can help. By breaking up your sitting time with short physical activity “snacks”, you can counteract some of the negatives that come with prolonged periods of sitting.

The study was led by Daniel Moore, an associate professor in the University of Toronto‘s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Eduction and head of the Iovate/Muscletech Metabolism & Sports Science Lab, and published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

There are many risks posed by prolonged periods of sitting, and one of these is the danger of losing muscle mass. Sitting for too long can make it harder for your body to clear our sugars and replace old proteins, which in turn can result in decreased muscle mass.

“[P]rolonged periods of low muscle activity — from sitting, wearing a cast or bed rest — is associated with a loss of muscle mass that occurs in parallel with, or because of, an inability of our muscle to build new proteins after we eat a protein-containing meal,” Moore explained in a press release.

In their study, Moore and colleagues were interested in learning whether short bouts of exercise throughout the day can help counteract these negative effects. These short bursts of exercise — which the researchers refer to as “activity snacks” — may be simpler for many of us to schedule into our days than a full workout at the gym.

To learn more, the team studied 12 participants across three separate trials for seven and a half hours each. This is similar to the amount of time that many of us spend sitting each day at school or office-based jobs.

The study participants were asked to sit for prolonged periods of time, but to break their sitting up every 30 minutes with short bursts of either walking or squatting for no more than a few minutes.

The team found that these short activity snacks helped improve the participants’ muscle protein synthesis, which is the process by which old proteins in the body are replaced or repaired. In turn, this could help participants maintain their muscle mass despite sitting for many hours each day.

“We know that prolonged sedentary periods impair the body’s ability to filter sugar from the blood following a meal,” Moore said.

“However, breaking up this sedentary period with brief bouts of activity such as two minutes of moderate intensity walking or rising and lowering 15 times from a chair (i.e. body weight squats), can improve the way our body clears sugar from our meals.”

These results highlight a simple habit that can help stave off the negative effects of sitting. By breaking up your day with short periods of activity — especially after eating meals — you can help your body clear out sugars as well as repair and replace proteins more efficiently.

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Emily Deibert is a PhD student in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto with a passion for science outreach and communication. She earned her HBSc (Astronomy, English, and Mathematics) at the University of Toronto. She is excited about turning scientific research into stories and sharing these stories with the public.