Too tired on weekdays for 6 am workout classes or crowded evening sessions at the gym? Good news: A big burst of exercise at the weekend is as good as spreading activity out across the week, a new study has found.
US researchers tracked more than 350,000 people over 10 years to see how well people who exercise in just one or two sessions – the so-called “weekend warriors” – fared.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Going for a walk or a light effort cycle on a bike would count towards this.
Alternatively, you could do 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like running or swimming.
Many of the participants in the study clocked up this amount in a week, but some crammed it into one or two sessions rather than spacing it out.
The findings of the study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal, suggest that as long as people hit the recommended amount of exercise a week, it doesn’t really matter when they work out or what they do.
After comparing the results of the participants who undertook the recommended level of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week over the course of 10 years, researchers found very little difference between weekend warriors and those who exercised more regularly.
"We found that weekend warrior and regularly active participants had similar all-cause and cause-specific mortality, suggesting that when performing the same amount of physical activity, spreading it over more days or concentrating it into fewer days may not influence mortality outcomes," reads the study, led by Mauricio dos Santos, an exercise physiology researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil.
“The findings of this large prospective cohort study suggest that individuals who engage in active patterns of physical activity, whether weekend warrior or regularly active, experience lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates than inactive individuals,” the authors write.
Some exercise is better than none
Researchers from the US National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) note some limitations of their analysis, including that the primary survey data came from self-reported questionnaires, which are not always reliable, but ultimately, their results confirm a lot of what we already know: exercise is good for you and can help you live longer.
“Exercise just once or twice a week can reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke,” says the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
The NHS also recommends people should do some form of physical activity every day including strength exercises, and try not to stay seated for extended periods of time.
Strength exercises include yoga, pilates, carrying heavy shopping bags, or heavy gardening like digging or shovelling.
Very vigorous activities that can help achieve recommended physical activity levels can be done in shorter, sharper bursts, including running up stairs, sprinting up hills, spinning classes, and lifting heavy weights.
But if you’re feeling guilty for relaxing on the sofa after a hard day at work, or if you’re time-poor during the week, just remember: It’s as beneficial to rest and make time on the weekends to fit in a good workout or two, when you actually have the time and energy to enjoy it.