For an Exercise ‘Snack,’ Try the New Standing 7-Minute Workout


Well challenge day 2

During pandemic lockdowns, many of us learned the importance of short home workouts. Take the 7-Day Well Challenge for a new exercise video and more ways to keep moving in 2021.

Credit…Andrew B Myers

Tara Parker-Pope

Make 2021 the year of the exercise snack.

Just as you might grab a handful of chips or nuts to break the monotony of your day, an exercise “snack” is a short burst of movement you can enjoy at home or in the office or outdoors. It can last for mere seconds or for several minutes. You can do it while talking on the phone or just because you want to take an hourly break from sitting in your chair. You don’t even have to change your clothes.

A number of scientific studies show that exercise snacking several times a day leads to meaningful gains in fitness and overall health. A recent study concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.

“We’ve sort of been conditioned that exercise is this thing you do in a special place once you change into spandex, and it’s very daunting for people,” said Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose lab has conducted several studies of exercise snacking. “Let’s get people out of the mind-set that exercise is this special thing we do. You can just be active, even if it means setting your watch to trigger you to do some squats or wall sits for one minute after an hour of sitting.”

For many of us, the exercise snack has already become a part of pandemic life, even if we haven’t been aware of it. Studies have shown that pandemic restrictions have slowed many people down. Average daily steps declined by about 5.5 percent during the first 10 days of a nation’s pandemic lockdowns and by about 27 percent by the end of the first month, according to data from more than 450,000 users of a smartphone step-counting app.

But to compensate, many people found ways to keep moving in their homes. An April study by Yelp, the local search and reviewing site, found that interest in fitness equipment had risen by 500 percent between March and April in the United States. Workout bands, kettle bells and exercise bikes sold out in stores and online, and exercisers found workout apps and videos to help them keep moving while stuck at home. Some people took short walks to make up for losing the morning commute. Others did jumping jacks or wall push-ups to break up hours of sitting at the laptop.

Several studies show that these small bursts of exercise can have a big impact on health. One recent study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, recruited 11 overweight men and women who were asked to sit for nine hours a day in cozy recliners, where they worked or watched television. They were all served three meals while sitting in their chairs. One day the participants never left the chair except to go to the bathroom. On another day, they left the chair just once an hour to race up three flights of stairs, which took about 20 seconds. Among the overweight participants, adding a 20-second burst of stair climbing to an otherwise sedentary day led to improvements in insulin sensitivity, a sign of metabolic health.

“We’re better able to process nutrients if we break up our sitting with these short bursts of exercise once every hour,” said Jonathan Little, associate professor in the school of health and exercise sciences at the University of British Columbia. “I don’t think it replaces regular exercise, but we think you can get some bang for your buck with a small amount of these exercise bursts. Working from home could make these exercise snacks a lot easier. If you have an exercise bike, you theoretically don’t need to change into exercise gear — in a 20-second burst, you’re not going to sweat.”

The study built on similar research at McMaster University that showed exercise snacks can lead to meaningful improvements in fitness. In that study, a dozen exercisers raced up three flights of stairs just three times a day for three days a week. After six weeks of these 20-second snacks of exercise, the exercisers had increased their aerobic fitness by about 5 percent. They also showed improvements in leg power and could generate more power while cycling.

Dr. Gibala said the lesson from the research is that with a little effort, we can stay active anywhere under almost any circumstances — no matter how busy we are. The key to getting the benefit of brief exercise is to pick up the pace.

“You need to push it a little bit,” said Dr. Gibala. “Get out of your comfort zone. If your normal exercise is walking around the block, pick it up a little bit. As you go about your day, as you’re playing with grandchildren, as you’re walking to the bus; the key is to encourage people to do it in a vigorous manner, and that may lead to some real health benefits.”

To learn how to add exercise snacks into your day, try the second day of our 7-Day Well Challenge. Sign up for the Well newsletter to get each day’s challenge in your inbox.

Day 2

This week, try one or more of these exercise challenges to add short bursts of exercise throughout your day.

Add exercise to your phone call: A work or social call is a great time to add some activity to your day — and the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t have to know about it. Just get up and start walking around your home as you talk. If you have hand weights, do some arm exercises. Do a yoga pose or a wall sit while you chat.

Add music to your movement break: Every hour or few hours, turn on a favorite song, and dance or do jumping jacks or another physical activity. If you’ve got children or another adult at home, ask them to join you. Adding music to a walk or just taking a short dance break will enhance the restorative benefits of exercise, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University and author of “The Joy of Movement.” “Moving to music is one of the best ways to increase positive emotions and to connect with other people,” said Dr. McGonigal. “Think about something like a movement break to music if you need more energy, or if you need a big emotional reset.”

Do the 7-Minute Standing Workout: Take a 7-minute break during your day to try our new standing workout video using the video link below. All you need is a wall, a chair for balance and sturdy shoes. The workout was designed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute and creator of the original scientific 7-minute workout.




The Standing 7-Minute Workout

Hi, everyone. Chris Jordan here, and welcome to my Standing 7-Minute Workout. No floor exercises, just a chair and a wall, and that’s all you need. We’re going to do 12 exercises, 30 seconds per exercise and 5 seconds’ rest in between. Remember, check with your doctor and make sure it’s safe for you to exercise before you start exercising. Don’t exercise if you think you’re going to experience any adverse effects. And of course, during exercise, stop straight away if you have any pains and problems. Make sure you get yourself warmed up and we’ll get started. All right, here we go with our first exercise — marching/jogging in place. Let’s go. Raise those knees. Pump those arms. This is a cardio exercise. The goal here, let’s get our heart rate up. If you can, let’s go into a jog, a jog in place. Pump those arms. Raise those knees. Get on to the balls of your feet. Pick up the pace, if you can. Looking good. All right, too much, then slow it down. Go back down to a march in place. Remember, just for your fitness level. 3, 2, 1. Done. Next exercise for the legs — chair assist squats. Here we go. Feet about shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, then lower yourself towards the chair. Use your arms to counterbalance. Go as deep as you can go while maintaining good form and good technique. Keep those knees behind the toes. Can’t go so deep, that’s OK. Come down halfway. Beautiful. Keep going. Once again, use the arms to counterbalance. 3, 2, 1. Done. Time for something for the upper body. Let’s do a wall push-up. Hands against the wall, feet away, body straight from head to heel, and lower yourself and push away against the wall. Feel the arms, shoulders and chest work each time you lower and push yourself away. Too hard? Bring your feet a bit closer. Too easy? Bring your feet a little bit further away. You’re doing great. Keep breathing. We’re almost done. 3, 2, 1. Next exercise for the core — standing bicycle crunches. Hands behind the ears. Here we go. March in place, and bring the opposite elbow to the opposite knee. Twist your upper body and crunch the abs as you do so. Looking good. If you can’t touch the knee with your elbow, just do the best you can. Get as close as you can, but make sure you’re crunching the abs, bringing the upper body towards the lower body. 3, 2, 1. Done. Time for cardio exercise — stand or squat and box. Let’s go. Feet shoulder width apart, a bit wider, and punch. There’s your stand and box. If you can, let’s throw in a squat as well as a box. Looking good. Remember, the goal here — cardio. Let’s get that heart rate up again. Punch a bit faster. Squat a bit faster. Too much? Just stand still and punch. Here we go. Almost there. 3, 2, 1. Done. Move along. Time for the legs — chair assist split squat. Left foot in front, right foot behind. Drop the right knee towards the ground. Keep the front knee behind the front toes. There we go. Use the chair for balance and stability, if you need to. Beautiful. All right, switch legs. Right in front, left behind. Same movement. Drop the back knee towards the ground. Nice upright posture. Keep breathing. Adjust your range for your fitness level. 3, 2, 1. Done. Let’s move along. Time for an upper body exercise. Let’s do a chair assist push-up. Hands on the edge of the chair, feet away, and let’s go. Get that body straight from head to heel. Lower the body towards the chair, and feel the arms, shoulders, and chest work each time you lower and push away. Squeeze the abs, squeeze the core, squeeze the glutes and the legs to keep the body straight and stable. Almost there. Here we go. 3, 2, 1. Move along. It’s time to do another core exercise. Let’s do a wall plank. Forearms against the wall, feet away, body straight from head to heel. There’s your plank. You can do this on the floor, and you can do this against the wall. Same thing. Once again, too easy? Take your feet further away. Too hard? Bring your feet closer to the wall. You got this. Feel the abs work hard to maintain that body straight from head to heel. Squeeze the legs and the glutes too. 3, 2, 1. Time to move on. Next exercise — stepping or jumping jacks. Here we go. It’s cardio time. What’s the goal? Let’s get that heart rate up. Here’s the stepping jack. If you can, join me in a jumping jack. A little bit harder, higher impact, but it’ll get your heart rate up. If you can do this, do it. If you can’t, that’s OK, you go back down to a stepping jack. Let’s get the heart rate up, but do it safely. 3, 2, 1. Done. Time for a leg exercise. Let’s do a wall sit. Sit against the wall, knees directly above your ankles. Back flat against the wall, arms folded. Hold that position. Once again, you can adjust. Too hard? Come up a little bit higher. Too easy? Come down a little bit lower. You find the right level for you. Stick to it. You’ve got it. Feel the muscles of the upper legs working hard to keep you braced in position. You’ve got this. Here we go. 3, 2, 1. Done. Let’s work on the upper body again. We’re going back to the wall, wall push-up. Hands against the wall. You know what to do. Feet away, and lower yourself. Once again, feel the arms, shoulders, chest working hard as you push away and lower yourself back towards the wall. Keep breathing. And you know you can adjust your feet position to make it easier or harder. Almost there. Here we go. 3, 2, 1. Last exercise for the core — standing side crunch. Hands behind the ears. Watch this. Right knee to right elbow, left knee to the left elbow. Do the best you can to touch knee to elbow. If you cannot, that’s O.K., just do the best you can. Make sure you’re bending at the upper body and the core to bring the knee and elbow towards each other. You’ll feel this in the sides of the abdominals, a side crunch. Excellent. 3, 2, 1. Done. Congratulations. You just completed my Standing 7-Minute Workout. Great job. Come back and try it again.

Video player loading

Video by Ruru Kuo, Rob Dozier, Jaspal Riyait and Tara Parker-Pope. Workout created and performed by Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.

The new standing workout was designed for newcomers to exercise, older people, pregnant women or anyone with an ache or injury that keeps them from easily getting down on the floor or back up. But anyone can take advantage of the benefits of this exercise snack.

If you find the workout too difficult, start with just one or two exercises and add more when you’re ready. And if you don’t like one of the exercises, such as the chair push up, just switch to a wall push up instead. The great thing about this workout is that you can do it at whatever intensity level is right for you.

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