Is it OK to work out on weekends only? Yes, if daily exercise can’t fit your schedule, researchers show - it’s just as good for you
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity weekly lowers your risk of dying
- Exercising just at the weekend can offer the same benefits as daily exercise, long-term study in US shows
Just because you don’t exercise regularly during the week doesn’t mean you can’t make it up on the weekend.
The World Health Organization offers guidelines for physical activity, suggesting adults get at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.
While experts have suggested people spread regular exercise throughout the week, that’s not always feasible for everyone.
An international team of researchers analysed the exercise routines and health of more than 350,000 American adults who participated in the US National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2013 to see what could be learned about different approaches to physical activity.
Health benefits of weekend exercise
Over the years study subjects were followed – each was tracked over an average of 10 years – those who achieved a total of 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity over one or two days each week had an 8 per cent lower risk of all causes of death than physically inactive participants; and the same risk of death from all causes, heart disease and cancer as those who exercised the same amount but over three to five days.
Those who exercised regularly during the week did have slightly lower mortality risks than the “weekend warriors”, as researchers dubbed them.
“But these differences were not statistically different, so we can say that they are comparably beneficial,” says study co-author Donghoon Lee, a nutrition research associate at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
How many more can benefit from more exercise?
Only about 23 per cent of US adults regularly get 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, according to America’s Health Rankings.
Here’s how to make time for exercise.
If you can’t exercise regularly, three to five days a week, you can still get those health benefits from fitting 75 to 150 minutes of exercise into one or two days, such as at the weekend.
Even though researchers focused on “weekend warriors”, Lee said, “it can be any day (or two days) of the week”.
Making time for exercise at the weekend is a good way to increase your activity level, said Amanda Paluch, a physical activity epidemiologist and kinesiologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health & Health Sciences.
“There is an abundance of evidence that some activity is better than no activity in terms of health benefits,” she says.
Getting exercise on the weekends “can be the first meaningful step toward improving your health”, said Paluch, who did not work on the study, but is familiar with its findings.
How do you know if it’s moderate or vigorous exercise?
Vigorous exercise and physical activity results in heavy sweating and large increases in breathing and heart rate, Lee said.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) examples of vigorous exercise include swimming laps, running and jogging, tennis (singles), aerobic dancing, and cycling at 10mph (16km/h) or faster.
Vigorous exercise yields a heart rate of about 142 beats per minute or more, the CDC says.
Moderate exercise includes walking (at least 3mph), cycling (less than 10mph), ballroom dancing and tennis (doubles). Moderate exercise yields a heart rate of about 109 or more.
What can help me stick with a new workout plan?
Try something new. While activities you already enjoy are good options, there’s always something exciting about “a completely new activity you’ve never done before”, she said.
Don’t overdo it at first. “If you are just getting started, don’t try to fit all 150 minutes of recommended moderate intensity activity in one weekend right away,” Paluch said. “Try for just 20 minutes each day and work your way up to avoid injury.”
If I exercise regularly now, does this mean I can slack off?
Not necessarily. “It is also important to note that this study focuses on mortality as an outcome,” Paluch said. “We know less about the intermediate benefits of two days per week versus more regular regimen spread throughout the week.”
For example, additional research will need to be done to compare blood pressure, blood glucose, weight or mental health of regular exercisers and “weekend warriors”, she said.
Regular exercisers who are active more than two days a week should keep it up.
“A more regular schedule can help maintain good habits,” Paluch said. “More regular activity can also prevent injury and maintain or improve your fitness in a more efficient manner.”