Skipping workouts Monday through Friday and working out only on weekends isn’t just practical for those leading busy lives, it also works.
A new study of more than 350,000 adults comparing mortality rates in so-called weekend warriors to regularly active people found no significant differences. The study was published on July 5 in “JAMA Internal Medicine.”
Previously, it’s been unclear whether adults who exercise moderately for 150 minutes a week (or vigorously for 75 minutes a week) have similar benefits regardless of how they spread out their workout schedules.
It’s great news for the clients of Tyler Todt, a certified American Council on Exercise (ACE) trainer, who are mostly busy men juggling professional jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Hitting the gym five times a week isn’t always practical for some lifestyles, Todt said.
“I love that this study shows there’s more than one way to do it,” said Todt, who models family fitness among his large social media following with the help of his three young children, including two 1-year-olds. “You can find times that work for you and still hit your goals.”
Specifically, the study explored whether one or two longer workouts compared favorably to three or more workouts for all-cause cardiovascular disease and cancer death. The statistical analyses were conducted this year after data were collected from 1997 through 2013.
The study concluded that “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.”
Perhaps the results will motivate the 4 out of every 5 American adults who aren’t meeting the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 75 minutes vigorous activity, or a combination of the two).
The American Heart Association (AHA) advises that even a little activity can offset a sedentary lifestyle. It defines physical activity as anything that burns calories through movement, such as walking, climbing stairs, and stretching.
Moderate exercise is aerobic activity that raises the heart rate and makes breathing a bit more challenging. This includes brisk walking, bike riding under 10 miles per hour, dancing, water aerobics, gardening, and tennis doubles. You can still hold a conversation during a moderate workout.
Vigorous cardiovascular workouts include running, swimming laps, hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack, heavy yardwork, biking faster than 10 mph, jumping rope, and tennis singles. The heart rate is higher, breathing is rapid, and sweating is common during intense exercise.
Knowing your target heart rate and monitoring it is the best way to ensure you’re exercising safely and reaching your weekly goals. ACE has a calculator on its website, as well as more detailed descriptions of how it feels to exercise in various zones, and instructions for measuring your heart rate if you don’t have an electronic monitor.
Besides living longer, decades of research have found that exercise contributes to a better quality of life.
Some of the outcomes of exercising, according to the AHA, include:
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer, and some complications of pregnancy
- Better sleep, including improvements in insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea
- Improved cognition, including memory, attention, and processing speed
- Less weight gain and obesity, and fewer related chronic health conditions
- Better bone health and balance, with a lower risk of injury from falls
- Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better quality of life and sense of overall well-being.
The participants in the trial self-reported data over a decade and were classified by researchers as “weekend warriors” or “regularly active,” according to their workout patterns.
Todt said the study is a reminder that little things can add up in our favor.
“If you can get a couple hours of movement every weekend, it counts,” he said. “The best workout is the one you’ll show up to consistently.”
It might also be helpful to ditch the perspective of working out as a “have to” on your task list, and shift your mindset to thinking of it as something you “get to” enjoy.
Besides doing activities you actually like, there are other ways to make it a lifestyle.
One tip might be fostering the right environment for you to exercise in—such as moving outdoors if you enjoy nature, or creating a special space in your house that inspires you. It might mean paying more for a gym membership because of aesthetics, equipment, or offerings that you know will motivate you.
Consider, too, incorporating exercise with the people you love to spend time with. For instance, playing sports with your children or grandchildren, holding family jump-rope contests, or bringing stories and songs to life with movement. “The Wheels on the Bus” might bring more smiles, laughter, and lasting health benefits if it’s acted out.
The National Institute on Aging has a great resource, “Fun Ways for Older Adults to Stay Physically Active,” on its website with ideas that are a bit more outside the box. Finally, consider having a workout buddy or accountability partner, as that tends to lead to more lasting habits.