One of the major obstacles people face when they want to get into an exercise routine is that it’s often hard to find enough time to work out. A lot of people wind up cramming their recommended weekly allotment of exercise into their weekend. And when they do, they often feel bad about it. But new research suggests that when you cut those corners, the cuts to your health aren’t actually as deep as you might suppose.
Apparently, if you fill up on exercise in just one or two sessions a week, it has almost the same reduction in general mortality rate as if you exercised regularly throughout the week.
A new study, published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, shows that workout out on the weekend is definitely better than nothing. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum quota of 75 minutes of hard exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise every weak in order to stay healthy.
The study, helmed by Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University, collected survey data on exercise habits and health of 63,591 adults in the UK between 1994 and 2012. The data were collected from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey.
When they compared the health data for people who only worked out on weekends to people who didn’t work out at all, the researchers parsed out significantly higher mortality rates for the sedentary. They experienced a 40% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, 30% higher risk of death in general, and 18% higher risk of death from cancer. And the mortality rates were remarkably similar between weekenders and the diligently active.
“Reductions in risk were similar in the weekend warriors and the regularly active,” said O’Donovan. Both men and women showed similar rates of mortality.
The new study corroborates the findings of a 2004 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which showed that exercising a mere one or two times per week had a significant effect on general mortality.
Only about one in three American adults actually reach their weekly exercise quotas. And a scant 1-3% are able to fulfill the quota in one or two sessions. So if you’re a weekend warrior, you probably need to wage your campaigns more aggressively.
“This is good news for people who aren’t active on a daily basis,” says Brian Parr, an associate professor of exercise and sports science at the University of South Carolina-Aiken. “That said, this study only examined mortality, meaning the number of people who died during the follow-up period.”
“It doesn’t tell us much about how these activity patterns impact health the way most of us would consider it, from controlling blood pressure, diabetes and blood lipids, to depression and weight control. It also doesn’t say anything about fitness, including strength, endurance and flexibility, which is an important reason many people are active.”
Also conspicuously absent from the research is a consideration of injury risk. If you’re cramming on the weekend, you’re more likely to push your limits in an unhealthy way. Most “weekend warrior” study subjects got their exercise quotas by playing sports.
“While this is fine for most people,” commented Parr, “participating in vigorous, prolonged exercise can lead to a greater risk of injury or soreness later, especially in people who aren’t in good shape to begin with.”
The American Osteopathic Association warns that this kind of exercise pattern can lead to an increased risk of sports injury.
Being a weekend warrior is, unequivocally, a superior health strategy to doing nothing. But if you can, try to space it out over the week.