Thanks to scientists collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data, much is known about exercise and how it improves health. And a new study says that just exercising on the weekend might be enough.
Things like the optimal time of day to exercise, how often we should exercise and what intensity we should achieve are known.
Many of these are just recommendations, of course, but they are based on aggregate data recorded from thousands of participants, showing what seems to work best for most people, and from many different perspectives, too. Science Alert.
What do studies tell us about physical activity and health?
For example, this data can show us interesting and useful factors, such as how much exercise is needed to compensate for sitting down all day, or how to best lose weight, and how even a single workout can have health benefits .
All of these studies provide insights that we can learn from and try to apply to our own lives. But one of the biggest problems with exercise is simply finding the time to actually do it throughout the week.
In this case, scientists have some news. And these bring good news.
Can we stay healthy by exercising only on weekends?
In a new international study, researchers analyzed public health data from more than 350,000 people in the US, collected through the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) between 1997 and 2013.
Analyzing the data, the team led by Mauricio dos Santos, an exercise physiology researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo in Brazil, had just one question they wanted to answer.
In short, as long as we exercise enough to reach the recommended levels of physical activity each week, does it matter whether we exercise only on weekends, in just one or two sessions, or is it better to split the physical activity into three or more regular sessions during the week?
At present, the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) of 2020 on physical activity and sedentary behavior states that adults should do 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week (or a combination equivalent of these).
While studies have previously analyzed health benefits of “weekend warriors”, it remained unclear how doing just one or two exercise sessions per week compared to more frequent sessions of physical activity, particularly in terms of reducing mortality risk.
Thanks to dos Santos and his colleagues, we now have a clearer answer.
Exercising only on weekends can be just as healthy as those who exercise daily
The researchers found very little difference in reducing the risk of all-cause mortality or specifically cancer or cardiovascular disease between those who exercised only on weekends and participants who exercised more regularly.
“We found that ‘weekend warriors’ and regularly active participants had similar all-cause and cause-specific mortality, suggesting that when doing the same amount of physical activity, spreading it over several days or concentrating it in fewer days does not appear to influence mortality,” the study authors wrote in the paper.
The most important takeaway, rather than worrying about how often or when we should exercise, is to make sure we’re trying to reach the recommended levels of activity each week, because that’s when the most noticeable clearly the beneficial effects of physical exercises.
What did the study show?
During 10.4 years (the average length of time participants were involved in the survey), nearly 22,000 people involved in the NHIS died. Among all participants, however, the statistical likelihood of dying from various causes was generally significantly lower if they did the recommended levels of physical activity.
“Findings from this large prospective cohort study suggest that individuals who engage in active patterns of physical activity, whether ‘weekend warriors’ or regularly active, experience lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates than inactive individuals “, explains the team.
“Compared with physically inactive participants, hazard ratios for all-cause mortality were 0.92 for ‘weekend warriors’ and 0.85 for regularly active participants; findings for cause-specific mortality were similar,” the researchers wrote.
How accurate is the study?
The researchers note some limitations to their analysis, including the fact that the survey’s primary data comes from self-reported questionnaires, which are prone to include some level of error compared to more objective measurements.
The good thing is that the findings here involve a huge cohort observed over a long period of time, which can give us a considerable level of confidence in the reported statistics.
It is enough to exercise only on weekends to keep us healthy
Ultimately, the results confirm much of what we already know: exercise is good for many of us, and if we get enough activity, we could live longer.
In addition, this information remains valid even if we do not have time, because we can only exercise on weekends.
“These findings are important for people with fewer opportunities for daily or regular physical activity during the work week,” the researchers explain.
The findings are reported in JAMA Internal Medicine.