Posted on Nov 10, 2022, 4 p.m.
A study from the University of Toronto recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that short bursts of exercise, or activity “snacks” (like 2-minute intervals of squats or walking) throughout the day, may help a person break up periods of prolonged sedentary sitting time and build muscle by using more amino acids from the foods they eat.
In America, it is estimated by the CDC that only around 23% of all adults meet the recommended amount of weekly exercise, current guidelines suggest adults perform 150 minutes of moderate-intensity workouts with 2 days of strength training exercises. In Canada, it is estimated by Statistics Canada that nearly half of adults (49.2%) meet the 2020 physical activity target recommendations in the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, and 1 in 2 adults meet the most recent target of at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity per week.
In the past research has shown that short bursts of exercise throughout the day can be of benefit to weight loss, cardiovascular health, and metabolic health. Researchers in this study report finding that short bursts of exercises or activity snacks throughout the day can help our bodies to better utilize amino acids obtained from consuming foods, while also helping to break up prolonged sitting time resulting in less muscle loss from a sedentary lifestyle.
Amino acids are essentially the building blocks of protein, these are typically acquired through food sources, and they are needed to build muscle. Nuts, tofu, dairy products, quinoa, buckwheat, beans, pea protein, soy, eggs, and animal protein are all types of food sources that are rich in essential amino acids. When a food protein source is digested the amino acids are left behind, the body uses these to make proteins required to build muscle and perform other functions.
Dr. Daniel Moore, lead author of this study and associate professor of muscle physiology at the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education at the University of Toronto said that they wanted to investigate whether breaking up sedentary time with brief periods of activity could help to improve the way that the body uses dietary amino acids for muscle protein synthesis, as this kind of lifestyle intervention has been shown to improve removal of fats and glucose from the blood. As he explains the proteins within the body are constantly being broken down into constituent amino acids with new proteins being built in their place, and this turnover ensures the removal of old/damaged proteins so new ones can be built to replace them.
“If we cannot build new ones as fast as old ones are broken down, then over time, we will lose muscle. However, any time we eat a protein-containing meal, our body (and especially muscles) use these amino acids to build new proteins, which ultimately is important to maintain overall muscle mass and quality,” said Dr.Moore.
In this study, the team of researchers examined participants for three trials that lasted 7.5 hours each in which the participants remained seated until they performed short bouts of body weight squats of walking every 30 minutes. Additionally, during the trials, the participants were given two meals that were designed to mimic breakfast and lunch.
According to the researchers, an analysis revealed that the short burst of exercise helped the participants’ bodies to better use the amino acids that they had acquired from their meals for use in the muscle protein synthesis process.
“We showed that the use of dietary amino acids to build new contractile myofibrillar proteins, which are responsible for generating muscle force, was increased. We believe that, over time, this would ultimately translate into the maintenance of muscle mass and function,” Dr. Moore explained, adding that this study highlighted that reducing sedentary time after a meal or throughout the day is important for setting the foundation for improving one’s muscle health.
“Any non-disease condition in which our muscles are not used, such as prolonged bed rest, wearing a cast, or even just low daily step counts, is associated with a loss of muscle. This muscle loss is ultimately linked to a condition called anabolic resistance, which is a reduced ability to build new muscle proteins after a meal,” said Moore.
It may come to some as no surprise that simply breaking up the monotony of sitting down all day helps to improve and optimize the ability to build skeletal mass from recent meals containing amino acids. As proteins basically make up muscle mass, when we are better able to incorporate amino acids into the body it should help to make us more efficient at building muscle.
If you are looking for ways to break up some of that monotony of sitting at a desk all day or being sedentary at home, there are many ways to safely get up and move. You could get up and walk around while talking on the phone, walk to a bathroom or water cooler that is further away, take the stairs more, walk or ride a bike to work or to pick up food rather than getting delivery, park further away from shops, get off a stop early on public transportation, stand and walk in place while folding laundry or cooking, walk around the sofa during commercials, for the most part, safety considered, the only limit is your imagination. Be well.
*Note: a typographical error was corrected shortly after publication, changing the word "recent" to "recently" in the intro.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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