Can a ‘snacktivity’ approach to physical activity reduce people’s future risk of disease?

Loughborough University is leading a multi-million-pound research programme to establish if a ‘snacktivity’ approach to physical activity, where people are encouraged to undertake short bursts of physical activity throughout the day, is effective in improving people’s health.

The Loughborough team will be working with colleagues at the Universities of Birmingham, Leicester, Edinburgh, and the Birmingham Community Healthcare Foundation NHS Trust on the £2.2 million project, which has been funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Current public health guidance states that over a week, adults should achieve at least 150-minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity, spread across five sessions of around 30 minutes. However very few people currently reach this weekly target, and to try and achieve it those who are inactive need to make significant changes to their lives.

‘Snacktivity’ focuses on promoting small, but frequent, doses of regular moderate intensity physical activity throughout the day so that at least 150 minutes of physical activity is accumulated weekly. A physical activity ‘snack’ typically lasts between two and five minutes and includes activities such as walk-talk conversations, walking coffee breaks and using the stairs instead of the lift.

The research team want to find out if the ‘snacktivity’ approach to promoting physical activity is acceptable, effective and easier to sustain over time compared to current physical activity guidance.

To do this they have created a ‘snacktivity’ intervention that will delivered as part of NHS health checks in general practices and consultations in community health services, such as podiatry, dietetics and rehabilitation services.

The researchers will use a smartphone application (snackApp) synchronised with a wrist worn physical activity tracker to enable participants in the intervention to self-monitor their ‘snacktivity’ and get feedback on their behaviour. The snackApp will prompt physical activity after one hour of no activity. The research team will test whether this approach helps to make the public more active compared to the current guidance for physical activity.

Speaking about the new study, chief investigator Professor Amanda Daley from Loughborough University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: “The UK population has become less physically active and more sedentary, which we know is associated with poorer health and diseases.

“To encourage people to be more physically active, and therefore improve their health, we need to make physical activity targets easy to achieve and sustainable over time. This study will establish if ‘snacktivity’ is a worthwhile approach to take in encouraging the public to be more active and to sit less throughout the day.”