- Those who exercise on the weekend can get the same health benefits as those who do it regularly if they put in the right amount of time, new research suggests
- Time required: 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity over one or two days each week.
- “Weekend warriors” had the same reduced risk of death as those who exercise the same amount of time over 3-5 days a week.
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 analyzed the exercise routines and health of more than 350,000 U.S. adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 1997-2013 to see what could be learned about different approaches to physical activity.
America’s fittest cities:How exercise can improve mental health
Booze benefits?:Even small amounts of alcohol may not be good for you, study suggests
Health benefits of weekend exercise
Over the years study subjects were followed – each were tracked 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% lower risk of all causes of death than physically inactive participants.
►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,” one of the study’s co-authors Donghoon Lee, a nutrition research associate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told USA TODAY.
How many Americans can benefit from more exercise?
Only about 23% of U.S. 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 (3-5 days a week), you can still get those health benefits from fitting 75 to 150 minutes of exercise activity into one or two days, such as on a 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 on 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 told USA TODAY.
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 CDC’s examples of vigorous exercise include swimming laps, running and jogging, tennis (singles), aerobic dancing, and bicycling 10 mph 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 3 mph), bicycling (less than 10 mph), ballroom dancing and tennis (doubles). Moderate exercise yields a heart rate of about 109 or more.
What’s everyone talking about? Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
What can help me stick with a new workout plan?
►Make it something you enjoy. “Weekends should be fun and there are many ways you can be active and have fun – explore a new hiking trail with a friend, go on a bike ride, get with some friends for a game of tennis,” Paluch said.
►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 vs. 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.”
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.