March 2024

Alexis Marcotte-Chénard PhD, Matthew J. Stork PhD, Mary E. Jung PhD, and Jonathan P. Little PhD
School of Health and Exercise Sciences, The University of British Columbia, Kelowna, BC V1V 1V7, Canada

Take home message

  • Stair-climbing exercise snacks may be an attractive and feasible form of physical activity in workplace settings.
  • The preliminary findings from this study indicate that middle-aged adults engaging in exercise snacks may experience more pleasure with lower perceived exertion compared to participating in high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
  • Completing workplace exercise snacks or HIIT appears to reduce daily sedentary behaviour and improve physical activity metrics.


  • Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour have been independently linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.
  • Exercise snacks, defined as short-duration (typically ≤ 1 minute) bouts of vigorous exercise performed sporadically throughout the day, could be an attractive exercise alternative because they are time-efficient and don’t require specialized equipment and facilities
  • No study has investigated the feasibility and receptivity of exercise snacks performed in the workplace compared to HIIT.

How the study was done

  • Fourteen middle-aged adults (12 women, 2 men) working at the University of British Columbia participated in this cross-over study, where participants performed both stairclimbing exercise snacks and work-matched stair-climbing HIIT on two separate days.
  • On the exercise snacks day, participants climbed ~4-5 flights of stairs as quickly and safely as possible at three separate times spread throughout the day: in the morning, at lunchtime, and late afternoon. For the HIIT sessions, participants completed one stairclimbing session at lunchtime consisting of climbing up the same ~4-5 flights of stairs 3 times in a row, separated by 2min of recovery.
  • These stair-climbing sessions were supervised so that researchers could record ratings of perceived exertion, affect, enjoyment, exercise self-efficacy, and exercise preferences.
  • After completing both supervised stair-climbing exercise snacks and HIIT sessions, participants were monitored for a 1-week follow-up period. During this time, they were asked to choose between performing either stair-climbing exercise snacks or stair-climbing HIIT based on their personal preference. Participants logged their exercise and wore an accelerometer to assess whether performing either type of exercise influenced subsequent physical activity and sedentary behaviours.

What the researchers found

  • There was a lower increase in ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) during the exercise snacks session compared to the HIIT session, and participants experienced greater positive affect (pleasure) during exercise snacks compared to HIIT.
  • Participants rated both exercise snacks and HIIT as highly enjoyable, with 71% preferring stair-climbing exercise snacks and 29% preferring stair-climbing HIIT.
  • During the 1-week follow-up, the average number of daily sit-to-stands increased on days when participants completed either exercise snacks or HIIT compared to days when they performed no exercise, suggesting that engaging in stair-climbing exercise at work might positively influence sedentary behaviours. There was also a tendency for physical activity to increase on days when participants did stair-climbing exercise snacks or HIIT.


This study provides preliminary evidence that integrating stair-climbing exercise snacks sporadically throughout the day, or lunchtime stair-climbing HIIT, may be feasible exercise options in the workplace. Participants showed favorable responses to the brief, time-efficient exercise snacks and there was evidence that engaging in both types of vigorous stair-climbing exercise reduced sedentary behavior and increased overall physical activity.