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Every minute counts

Staying active during the lockdown has been particularly challenging. We’ve all needed to get creative.

The reality is though that staying active can often be a challenge, whether in lockdown or not. Be it juggling family commitments, managing long work hours or just struggling for motivation, it’s not always easy.

Starting is often the hardest part.

So what about getting started, in lockdown and when restrictions start to ease, through ‘exercise snacks’? What’s not to love about snacking, right?

We asked Associate Professor Simon Rosenbaum, a member of the Veteran Sport Australia Research Advisory Committee and National Board Director of Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA), about the benefits of ‘exercise snacks’ – bite-sized bursts of physical activity that you can build into your everyday life without necessarily throwing on the joggers. Especially in our current environment where it’s hard to do our regular workouts, what are the benefits of just doing what we can, when we can?

“When it comes to exercise and our mental health, something is better than nothing and every minute counts,” says Simon. “To help you to meet the physical activity guidelines, definitely consider starting with ‘exercise snacks’ – short bouts of activity spread throughout the day.”

“The evidence tells us that intensity is actually less important than say overall duration or total volume of activity,” says Simon. “In other words, we shouldn’t underestimate just how beneficial for our mood and overall mental wellbeing every bit of movement can be. This is why the concept of ‘exercise snacking’, small bouts spread throughout the day, can be so effective.”

“Also remember exercise doesn’t have to be getting out for a run and getting sweaty,” says Simon. “Muscle building exercises like sitting and standing from a chair, push-ups against the kitchen counter, spread throughout the day can be just as effective.”

For the last month, we’ve been releasing our own ‘snack’ sized videos over Facebook and Instagram especially for our veteran community with exercise tips, challenges and sharing what other organisations have been up to during the lockdown.

What a line-up of amazing contributors we’ve had, including:

  • Veteran and co-captain of the Australian Invictus Games basketball team Joel Vanderzwan and veteran and triathlete Sarah Watson throwing down physical challenges
  • Kate O’Donoghue and Jim Geddes from Frontline Yoga taking us through different yoga poses and breathing techniques
  • Invictus Games gold medallist and Ambassador for Australia Day, Lifeline and Soldier On Australia Ben Farinazzo teaching us how to “SHRED”
  • Rowing Australia running their 2020 Anzac Day Indoor Rowing Challenge
  • Veteran Jye Martin from Young Veterans, Tim Hodgson from Gotcha4Life and Joel Pilgrim from Waves of Wellness speaking to us about the importance of connection and mental wellness
  • Scott and Corey from Power Elite giving some tips for improving training
  • Federal member of parliament and veteran Luke Gosling MP sharing some thoughts about staying healthy and taking on a push up challenge
Kate O’Donoghue from Frontline Yoga: Breathing demonstration video

Check out some of the videos and you’ll see that a key thread running through all of the messages has been about having fun and enjoying what you’re doing.

Simon Rosenbaum agrees that enjoyment is in fact a very important component of getting active – and staying active.

“Finding something that you enjoy, whether it be walking or running outside (remembering to practice physical distancing), or completing a home-workout, can benefit your mental health,” says Simon. “Prioritising enjoyment over the type or intensity of the exercise is going to ensure that you’re more likely to create a sustainable exercise habit and maximise the health benefits. This is especially true for inactive people or those new to exercise.”

There’s of course also a strong mental health component to all this, which seems particularly relevant for those of us that might have previously been very fit for work and used to exercise intensely every day but have since dropped off.

“When healthy people become inactive, levels of depression can increase after as little as seven days,” says Simon. “In fact, as little as 60 minutes of physical activity per week could prevent up to 17% of incident cases of depression.”

So, the next time we think of snacking, instead of reaching for the lolly jar or for that block of chocolate, let’s find way to do some ‘exercise snacking’ – no matter how small it might seem!

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A/Prof Simon Rosenbaum is a Scientia Fellow in the School of Psychiatry, UNSW Sydney and the Black Dog Institute. Simon has published over 170 peer-reviewed publications, including a textbook on the role of exercise in the treatment of mental illness. Simon serves as an elected national director of Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), is the Vice-President of the Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress (ASTSS) and has worked with a variety of groups including emergency service workers, contemporary veterans and refugees.  

Simon Rosenbaum