Even a 20-Second Exercise ‘Snack’ Can Improve Fitness

As little as 20 seconds of brisk stair climbing, done several times a day, might be enough exercise to improve fitness, according to a pragmatic new study of interval-style training.

The study finds that people can complete a meaningful series of insta-workouts without leaving their office building or even changing out of their dress shoes, offering hope — and eliminating excuses — for those of us convinced that we have inadequate time, expertise, income or footwear to exercise.

By this point in January, many of us have begun to waver on our New Year’s fitness resolutions, often blaming jammed schedules for our neglected workouts.

Such perceived time constraints have fueled interest in exercise that is short but strenuous, substituting intensity for duration. These types of workouts, structured as interval sessions, consist of brief spurts of high-intensity exercise, such as 20 seconds of all-out pedaling on a stationary bicycle, interspersed with periods of rest.

In 2017, the scientists published their first relevant study. It showed that sedentary women who completed three, 20-second bouts of climbing stairs, performed in one session with several minutes of rest between the climbing, increased their fitness by about 12 percent after six weeks.