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Weekend Warriors May Get Same Overall Health Benefits as Regular Exercisers

Experts say you can still achieve overall health benefits even if you work out only on weekends.

  • Experts recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.
  • One or two longer workouts seem to provide similar health benefits as more numerous shorter workouts.
  • It’s never too late to begin regularly exercising and reaping the health benefits.

In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.

There seems to be universal agreement around this amount of exercise.

You’ll find guidelines to this effect everywhere from the World Health OrganizationTrusted Source and the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTrusted Source to the American Heart AssociationTrusted Source.

But what hasn’t been studied in detail is whether you have to spread out that exercise during the week in order to gain the benefits.

Is it worth it to be a “weekend warrior?” New researchTrusted Source attempts to answer that question.

A win for public health

As it turns out, researchers say 150 minutes of physical activity per week is valuable whichever way you choose to slice it up.

Half an hour every weekday? Great! An hour at the gym on Saturday and a 90-minute pickup game on Sunday? Also good!

More specifically, the researchers found that achieving the weekly physical activity guidelines resulted in a reduced risk of all-cause mortality.

Participants were grouped into three categories based on self-reported levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA):

  1. Physically inactive. People with less than 150 minutes of weekly MVPA.
  2. Weekend warriors. People with 150 minutes of weekly MVPA across 1 to 2 sessions.
  3. Regularly active. People with 150 minutes of weekly MVPA across 3 or more sessions.

Both groups of active participants showed a decreased risk of mortality compared to the inactive group. Results of the weekend warrior group didn’t significantly vary from the regularly active group.

“I think it’s important to notice that the age is fairly young in this study — early 40’s on average — and it still showed a reduction in overall mortality risk, particularly for heart disease and cancer,” Dr. Adam Rivadeneyra, a sports medicine physician with the Hoag Orthopedic Institute in California, told Healthline.

Rivadeneyra pointed out, however, that the findings don’t necessarily prove causation.

“But a modest reduction in mortality at a relatively young age might suggest even greater benefits as we age when things like heart disease and cancer become more common,” he said.

Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, told Healthline that the self-reported surveys the research relied on could be improved in future studies.

“With the ever-growing role of digital devices, more accuracy would be achieved with the use of sensors such as pedometers and accelerometers, now found in modern-day consumer wearables,” Tadwalkar said.

While future research into this topic could certainly be enhanced, Tadwalkar also added, “I believe the findings of this study are tremendously positive from a public health perspective.”

Your workouts can work around you

If you sometimes feel too busy to work out, you’re not alone.

However, the perception that you have to go to the gym every day might not be correct.

“I think it shows that people can be flexible with their schedules and their preferences of activities,” said Rivadeneyra.

“People should feel empowered that they can choose how hard and how often to exercise and still get improved overall health and wellness,” he added.

Many people may find that a weekend warrior type of workout routine fits more conveniently between other commitments such as family time and work.

“The best part is that we now have good evidence that this exercise pattern can provide real value to an individual’s physical health,” Tadwalkar said.

Getting started

But what if you’re not a weekend warrior or regularly active?

Experts say it’s not too late to start leveraging physical activity to improve your health.

“Even a few minutes of light activity is a great start. It helps build momentum and confidence as you start to see improvement in duration, higher intensity, improved strength, and reduced fatigue,” Rivadeneyra said.

If you can, find someone to join in your workouts.

“It really helps getting started and maintaining exercise habits to recruit a friend or family member to exercise with you,” Rivadeneyra recommended.

“If one does not know where to start, I tell them to just walk briskly for 30 minutes a day, 5 times per week. This will, in total, satisfy their physical activity goal,” said Tadwalkar.

“If this goal seems too lofty for a specific person, I will simply ask them to take 5-to-10-minute walks anytime there is a chance. For those who are less mobile, use of a foot and/or arm bike while passively watching a show or movie in their home is a great step forward,” he added.

The most important part is to start where you’re at and work up to your goals.

“People should gain confidence knowing that it all adds up in the end. Even a small amount of activity is better than none. Start with baby steps and your body will ultimately reward you,” said Tadwalkar.

Written by David Rossiaky for healthline