We humans

Struggling to work out? Try snacking on exercise instead

Jan 11, 2019 /

To jump-start a workout habit, start out with small amounts, suggests wellness specialist Lauren Parsons.

Every weekday for the month of January, TED Ideas is publishing a new post in a series called “How to Be a Better Human,” containing a helpful piece of advice from a speaker in the TED community. To see all the posts in the series, click here.

Among the sources of everyday guilt, right up there with “not eating enough fruits and veg” and “not saving enough money” is “not working out.” As a wellness specialist and personal trainer in New Zealand, Lauren Parsons has heard every excuse for why people don’t exercise. The most common? “No time.”

To which, she asks: “Do you have time to brush your teeth every day?”

She estimates that brushing one’s teeth twice a day takes around four minutes. By incorporating exercise into our routines in manageable, four-minute chunks, we can build the foundation for a more active life.

OK, let’s be realistic: Four minutes is not going to transform you into Lionel Messi or Serena Williams (TED conversation: On tennis, love and motherhood). However, some studies have shown that “snacking” on exercise can be worthwhile — that brief, intense bursts of activity still have health benefits.

“There are so many different ways that you can snack on exercise,” says Parsons. “It could be that while the kettle boils in the morning, you do some push-ups on your kitchen counter [or] … when you’re at the playground, you play with your kids.”

During the work day, go for a brisk four-minute walk down the hall or up a few flights of stairs. On the weekend, grab the mop or vacuum, go to Spotify and choose a “workout” playlist (under “Browse”), and clean to the beat. Or, while brushing and flossing your teeth, do a set of squats.

Parsons’ only requirements for a worthy snack: It should raise your heart rate, strengthen your muscles, or both.

Having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant, Parsons wants to reduce preventable diabetes by encouraging more people to exercise in ways they can fit into their lives. (Editor’s note: Type 1 diabetes is never preventable, while most — but not all — cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable.)

“I’m not saying you should do only four minutes of exercise a day,” explains Parsons. “Longer workouts can give you even more benefit, but the thing I hear most often when I share this concept … is that it sounds doable.”

Every healthy person you can think of — from Serena to the neighbor you see power-walking even through downpours — got started somewhere.

Are you ready to do it?

Watch her TEDxOneonta talk here: