Don’t you love those moments when you learn a new concept or hear an idea that flips a switch in your brain and completely inspires you to make a change for the better?

I love them. Those light-bulb moments thrill me.

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut, to keep going the way you’re going. It’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. I get that. But sometimes we need a gentle nudge – or a full-on kick in the pants – to help open our minds to new possibilities and move in a better direction.

This happened to me a few weekends ago when I attended the 12th Annual Exercise and Nutrition Symposium at Western University. Not the full-on pants kick, mind you, but a couple of light bulbs were definitely flicked on.

The day-long event featured speakers from a number of areas relating to health, including university professors and professionals from the community, all sharing their fitness insights and nuggets of nutritional wisdom with a crowd of students and everyday folks like me who were willing to sit in lecture-hall chairs for eight hours.

Two speakers, in particular, presented ideas that really got me excited – Dr. Tom Hazell from Wilfrid Laurier University and Dr. John Berardi, co-founder of Precision Nutrition. In this part 1 post, I’m going to chat about something cool Tom Hazell said that helped me change the way I view daily activity. In part 2, we’ll talk about the insight John Berardi passed on and how it too affected the way I think about health and well-being.

Filling Up the Snack Cupboard

Dr. Hazell’s half-hour talk centred on whether certain types of physical activity, such as HIIT, actually suppressed appetite, instead of leaving you ravenous, as you might feel after a long run.

It was an interesting look at different types of workouts, and a theory (that interval training does not have the same effect on your appetite as steady-state cardio) that I can personally attest to. But it was the phrase “exercise snacking,” which he just happened to use during his session, that really caught my attention.

Exercise snacking is the idea that you can add short bouts of physical activity throughout your day to improve your overall health. Whether it’s taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking at the back of the parking lot instead of the spot closest to the door, adding extra minutes of effort here and there really can add up throughout the day.

A woman sits with a tray of packaged snacks on her lap. She is savouring one of the snacks.
Source: GraphicStock

It’s not a new concept, but for some reason, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it called “snacking” before. (Where have I been?) I love the idea of using a term that we associate with a fun activity (picture happily snacking on a bag of tasty chips) and applying it to an activity we feel we should do because it’s good for us but seems a bit arduous.

And lord knows I love a good snack. So this notion of exercise snacking has instantly helped me shift the way I view my daily activities and seek out “snacks” in the same way that my kids are constantly standing with the fridge door open looking for anything non-vegetable to eat.

Before hearing Dr. Hazell casually mention exercise snacking (and Dr. Berardi’s talk too – stay tuned for that post in the next week), I believed that my three one-hour gym sessions a week were good enough, and that I could park at the front of the lot because I had already worked hard enough. “I’m good, I just went to the gym last night,” I’d say to myself. But now, I’m reminded that those workouts are just the foundation, and that there is so much more opportunity to build on that foundation throughout the day.

Throughout the day may, in fact, be the key here as we read more and more studies about the negative health effects of sitting at a desk all day.

A picture taken from the corner of a small parking lot, with several cars in the foreground and a large, threes-storey building in the background.
OK, so my workplace parking lot is not huge. But here I am at the back corner, about to enjoy my first exercise snack of the day.

So what kinds of exercise snacking have I been trying over the past two weeks? I’m parking at the far corner of both my workplace parking lot and the grocery store lot, taking more lunchtime walks with a co-worker, and even doing kettlebell lifts during my weekly online continuing ed webinar (don’t tell my teacher). Tonight I played catch with my son in the backyard. It’s not a ton – yet – but spring is finally here and I can see lots of opportunity for more exercise snacking now that the weather is turning sunny and warm.

If you’re like me, your days are pretty busy. Maybe you don’t have time to hit the gym or join a running group. Exercise snacking may be just what you need to keep you moving. Anything we can do to add more movement and activity to our day is going to go a long way in making us feel healthier, happier, and more balanced.

What are some more ways to enjoy exercise snacking? Let me know what you’ve done or would like to do to add more movement to your day.