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Young man gets off the bus while using his phone to walk and talk

Getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way and walking while taking a phone call are great ways to introduce more physical activity into your day

This Mental Health Awareness Week, CLiMB researchers Dr Kajal Gokal and Professor Amanda Daley report on how incorporating bite-sized pieces of physical activity into our everyday lives can help lift our mental health.

The theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is 'moving for our mental health' but trying to juggle work and family life and with growing pressure on finances means it can be a struggle to get the physical activity we need.

If you're one of those people who is constantly chasing their tail, fighting feelings of fatigue, feeling burnt out and living for the weekend, then introducing frequent but short 'activity snacks' into your regular schedule could help improve your overall health and psychological wellbeing.

As a population we are spending less time moving and more time sitting. Evidence suggests that approximately 40 per cent of the UK population are not meeting the physical activity guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity a week, as recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officers. 

The latest guidance suggests that accumulating the recommended amount of physical activity in short bouts throughout the week can be beneficial for both mental and physical health.

Physical activity has been shown to help manage stress and feelings of both anxiety and depression. Being active also helps increase your energy levels and improve sleep and productivity.

In addition, moderate intensity levels of physical activity can reduce the risk of developing chronic illness such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. 

However, finding the time, money and motivation to be physically active can be a challenge, especially if we do not have the equipment, space or mental energy to get moving. That's where a new concept in physical activity called Snacktivity™ could help.

Developed by researchers at the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour at Loughborough University, Snacktivity™  encourages people to complete short, frequent 'activity snacks' (2-5 minutes) throughout the day and is ideal for those who struggle to be active. Snacktivity™ does not require a change of clothes or any specific equipment and can be incorporated into your day to suit your schedule.

Examples of activity snacks include getting off the bus one stop early and walking the remaining distance, arm raises when watching TV or lunges while waiting for the kettle to boil. These short activity snacks can help to break up the amount of time spent sitting, and doing several activity snacks a day can help to achieve the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity over a week.

The team at Loughborough have tested the concept of Snacktivity™ in different health settings. Healthcare professionals were asked to encourage their patients to integrate the concept into their daily lives and then to provide feedback on their experiences of doing activity snacks during their day. 

Overall, patients were complementary about the concept and they liked the flexibility and accessibility of it, and saw it as a meaningful way to achieve the physical activity guidelines. They found the approach acceptable and were able to incorporate activity snacks into their day-to-day schedule, particularly within the home. Some people also commented on the benefits of activity snacks on their mental health, for example: "….there are days I don't feel great mentally, but actually for the first time in a long time I feel healthy. So, I do think it's having an impact."

Others commented that Snacktivity™ provided them with a sense of achievement as it was easy to do, while some liked the motivational aspect of the idea: "I'm not going to be one of these who you know go and spend hours in the gym, but you know these sort of things are well within your means and I can do them …because sometimes you're not just motivated, but it's not going to take much to do two minutes of something."

Given the positive feedback and acceptability of Snacktivity™ to date, the team are now evaluating the idea on a larger scale in health settings across the UK to see the impact on people's mental and physical health. If you would like to hear more about the study, please contact the team at:

Dr Kajal Gokal is a senior research associate in behavioural medicine in the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour at Loughborough University.

Dr Kajal Gokal Senior Research Associate in Behavioural Medicine

Professor Amanda Daley Professor of Behavioural Medicine and Centre Director

This article is republished from the British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

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