Exercise snacking to improve physical function in pre-frail older adult memory clinic patients: a 28-day pilot study

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Background: Finding innovative yet feasible ways of preventing physical and cognitive decline in those at risk is a critical global challenge, with exercise being championed as a key precursor to robust health in later life. Exercise snacking, here defined as short bouts of sporadic [muscle-strengthening] exercise, is one such strategy designed to overcome typical participation barriers observed in older adults. This study examined the acceptability of exercise snacking amongst pre-frail older adults and explored the efficacy of this approach in improving physical function. Methods: In this single group design, 21 pre-frail outpatients with mild-cognitive impairment were recruited from a UK memory clinic. To be eligible, participants were aged ≥ 65-years who scored 3–8 (inclusive) on the short physical performance battery (SPPB) and were not regularly engaging in sport or exercise. Participants completed a 28-day, twice daily, exercise snacking intervention, consisting of five muscle-strengthening exercises, with the aim being to complete as many repetitions as possible of each exercise in a minute. Acceptability of the intervention was measured quantitatively and qualitatively using a survey and topic guide informed by the Theoretical Framework of Acceptability. Pre- and post-intervention physical function was measured using the SPPB, timed up-and-go (TUG), and 60s standing balance and sit-to-stand tests. Results: Eighteen participants provided follow-up data and showed 85% adherence to the exercise snacking intervention, measured as the proportion of all sessions completed out of a possible 56. Participants rated the intervention as highly acceptable (4.6/5) suggesting it supported their self-efficacy (4.3/5) was enjoyable (4.1/5) and had a low burden (2.1/5). Qualitative findings suggested the ease of use, flexibility of the programme, and perceived effectiveness was important, and particularly useful for non-exercisers. Changes in SPPB score (8(1) vs. 9(3), p < 0.01), TUG (11.32(4.02) vs. 9.18(5.25) seconds, p < 0.01) and in the 60-second sit-to-stand test (17 ± 5 vs. 23 ± 7 repetitions, p < 0.01) were seen between baseline and follow-up. Conclusions: Exercise snacking is an acceptable and potentially efficacious format of exercise for pre-frail memory clinic attendees who are at heightened risk of falling and frailty. Large scale randomised controlled trials are required to confirm whether exercise snacking is effective in the short and long term. ClinicalTrials.gov registration: NCT05439252 (30/06/2022)




Western, M. J., Welsh, T., Keen, K., Bishop, V., & Perkin, O. J. (2023). Exercise snacking to improve physical function in pre-frail older adult memory clinic patients: a 28-day pilot study. BMC Geriatrics, 23(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12877-023-04169-6

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