Research shows that strength training is essential to many aspects of your health, including metabolism, bone health, blood pressure, mental wellness, weight management, and blood sugar control. For example, adding more muscle to your frame benefits weight loss, since lean muscle burns more calories than fat. Also, maintaining muscle mass as you age reduces the risk of falls and fractures by improving bone mineral density.
Now, according to a new study from the University of Toronto, you don’t need to spend countless hours in the gym to stay strong and improve your health. Instead, doing this one activity for as little as two minutes after a meal can help you maintain your muscle mass as you age. Read on to learn what it is, and why you should add it to your daily routine.
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Regularly sitting for extended periods, whether at a desk, on the couch watching TV, or driving, can wreak havoc on your health. Prolonged sitting can lead to metabolic syndrome, with such symptoms as high blood pressure, blood sugar dysregulation, excess body fat, high cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer. Considering the risks that sitting poses to your health, it’s critical to move your body more to prevent adverse health outcomes.
Sitting for too long without regular exercise can cause your body to break down muscle tissue. This is harmful, because maintaining lean muscle tissue is essential for healthy aging. “When you’re sedentary, the signals to build muscle aren’t sent because you’re not performing any actions that tell your body you need new muscle tissue,” says Rachel MacPherson, CPT, an ACE-certified personal trainer with Garage Gym Reviews. “Conversely, when you get up and move more—such as walking or performing weight-bearing activities—messages get sent to use amino acids to build and maintain muscle.”
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A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology examined the effects of breaking up prolonged periods of sitting, a common occurrence in workplaces, to determine whether it would increase muscles’ ability to use amino acids (the building blocks of protein) from food to help them repair or replace damaged proteins.
Researchers found that interrupting prolonged sitting with intermittent exercise—also referred to as “activity snacks”—can boost muscle protein synthesis (MPS), your body’s process of building new muscle. They concluded that two minutes of walking or bodyweight squats can effectively increase MPS.
Daniel Moore, PhD, the study’s lead researcher and an associate professor of muscle physiology at the University of Toronto, tells Best Life, “We saw that reducing sitting time with practical activity snacks allowed more of the amino acids our participants ate to be used to rebuild the contractile myofibrillar proteins, which are the primary proteins that contribute to the size of our muscles and are the ones that allow our muscles to generate force.”
Moore and his research team also found that doing activity snacks after a meal improves blood sugar control and allows more efficient use of amino acids to help maintain muscle mass and quality.
“We know prolonged sedentary periods impair the body’s ability to filter sugar from the blood following a meal,” says Moore. “However, breaking up this sedentary period with brief bouts of activity, such as two minutes of moderate-intensity walking or rising and lowering 15 times from a chair (e.g., body weight squats), can improve the way our body clears sugar from our meals.”
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If you want to build new muscle or maintain muscle quality while enhancing blood sugar control, try the following two-minute activity snacks after your next meal. MacPherson suggests doing walking lunges, sissy squats, standing body weight calf raises, planks, burpees, and push-ups (either regular, against a wall, or on an incline).
Moore recommends exercises that engage the leg muscles, since they’re the largest muscle group in your body. “Brief periods of walking and sit-to-stand exercises are the examples we used in the study, but you could also walk up and down a flight of stairs or perform single-leg lunges. However, people may consider higher intensity or full body exercises such as push-ups or jumping jacks.”
Another excellent way to break up your sitting time during the workday is to use the Pomodoro Technique, an effective time management tool that enhances productivity and disrupts sitting time by working in 25-minute increments followed by a five-minute break. Instead of scrolling social media or grabbing another cup of coffee, use your five minutes to do some “activity snacks” and encourage healthy aging.