There’s a lot we know about exercise. We know about its benefits, like its ability to improve heart health or relieve depression, and we know how great strength training can be for strengthening bones and burning fat. We also know approximately how much exercise we should be getting to see these benefits…and the list goes on. But there’s also a lot we know about humans, one important thing being that we’re super busy and are prone to skipping our daily workouts.
We also have good intentions, though! And, because we do want to get the benefits of working out (and we don’t want to feel guilty) many of us become “weekend workout warriors,” meaning we cram all of our workout sessions into the two days of the week that we’re not so busy, stressed, and tired. If that sounds like you, and you’ve been beating yourself up about not working out all week, you’ll be very interested to hear about a study that suggests you might actually be getting the same benefits as someone who spreads their workouts out throughout the week.
A Review: How Much Exercise Should We Be Getting?
Before we dive into the study, let’s quickly review the recommendations for how much exercise we should be getting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should get:
- 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week – This means something that gets your heart rate up and makes you break a sweat (you should be able to talk, but not belt out a tune). These 150 minutes can include things like brisk walking, riding your bike, or even heavy chores like pushing a lawn mower or gardening – OR
- 75 minutes of vigorous activity – This type of activity should raise your heart rate quite a bit, and make you breathe hard and fast (you shouldn’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath). To get these 75 minutes in, you can try things like running/jogging, swimming laps, riding your bike fast on a hilly route, dancing, etc. – OR
- An equivalent mix of the two types of activity – PLUS
- 2 days a week (or more) of muscle-strengthening activities – You can use weights, resistance bands, or do bodyweight activities, but make sure to work all the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.
So those are the minimum recommendations laid out by the CDC, and agreed upon by a lot of other medical experts. But here’s the thing: they don’t actually say that it’s better to break up those 150/75 minutes into equal chunks spread out over the whole week, and there is not really a whole lot of evidence to suggest that’s the only way to get your exercise in. And now there’s proof that you can fit working out into your busy life, and still reap the benefits.
The Study: Good News for Weekend Warriors
A new international study has found that working out on the weekends is just as effective for your health as working out daily is – but the key is that you need to be doing the same amount of exercise as you would if you were to workout every day. The study, led by Mauricio dos Santos, MS.c., an exercise physiology researcher from the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, analyzed public health data for over 350,000 people in the US collected through the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) between 1997 and 2013. They investigated the question, “Does performing the recommended levels of weekly physical activity in 1 to 2 sessions (weekend warrior) vs 3 or more sessions (regularly active) influence mortality?”
This is basically the first time that scientists have really determined if cramming all of your physical activity into 1 or 2 sessions a week (or being a weekend warrior) is comparable to spreading out your recommended dose of movement in terms of health benefits (mortality), and guess what? They found very little difference between weekend warriors and regular exercisers in terms of reduced mortality risk from all causes, and specifically from illnesses like cancer or cardiovascular disease.
In fact, the researchers concluded 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.” And “individuals who engage in the recommended levels of physical activity may experience the same benefit whether the sessions are performed throughout the week or concentrated into fewer days.”
Sounds like good news for all of us who are busy on the weekdays, but like to get in a good, long workout on our days off – because, remember, you’ve still got to get in your recommended amount of exercise, no matter when you do it or how you spread it out.
But what if that doesn’t work for you? Are there other, just as effective, ways to work your workout into your week?
Another Option for Fitting In Your Recommended Dose of Exercise
The above study is not the only one that suggests you don’t need to be so regimented with the timing of your workouts. There is another study that found that you can still get the health benefits of exercise, even if you can only cram in 10 minutes or so at a time.
In a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, participants ages six and older were asked to wear an accelerometer (an instrument that measures vibration and acceleration) for seven days from 2003 to 2006. Researchers then used data from 4,850 participants that were 40 to 85 years old and followed up in 2015 to determine their self-reported health status.
And, while the researchers were actually just looking to determine if exercise increased longevity, they had some interesting findings about the amount of exercise needed to boost health. They found that, yes, exercise reduces mortality – and were surprised by how little at a time could make a difference. The study estimated that approximately 110,000 deaths per year could be prevented if adults aged 40 to 85 increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity intensity (MVPA) by as little as just 10 minutes per day. In fact, increasing MVPA by 10, 20, or 30 minutes per day was associated with a 6.9%, 13%, and 16.9% decrease in deaths per year, respectively.
So what does that mean for you if you’re not a weekend warrior or someone who gets in a consistent daily workout? Well, even fitting in 10 minutes at a time can make a difference to your health! And if you can do that 3 times a day on some days, or more or less on other days, you can meet your recommended amount of physical activity, or maybe even sneakily get some extra exercise in.
For example, if you take a brisk walk while talking on the phone for 10 minutes, have a 10-minute dance party with your kids after school, and do a mini HIIT workout while watching TV for 10 minutes in the evening, you’ll have hit the 30-minute mark without even realizing it!
The bottom line is: exercising is the right thing to do for your health, so don’t let time constraints keep you from doing something that could extend your life. Stop worrying about finding time for a workout at the same time, for the same amount of time, every day, and just get moving whenever you can! Studies are actually proving that you don’t need to be an “all or nothing” exerciser – “all or something” is just as good, and could keep you healthier, for longer. And we want you around for a long, long time!
We want to hear from you: are you a weekend warrior when it comes to exercise? Or are you all about spreading the love when it comes to working out? Are you getting in your recommended amount – or will these studies motivate you, knowing that even a little at a time, or a longer weekend workout can help?
Co-written by Joanna Bowling