The health benefits of weekend exercise can offset the inactive week

  • Those who exercise on weekends can get the same health benefits as those who exercise regularly if they devote enough time to it, a new study finds.
  • Time required: 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity on one or two days each week.
  • The “weekend warriors” had the same reduced risk of death as those who exercised for the same amount of time for 3-5 days a week.

Just because you don’t exercise regularly during the week doesn’t mean you can’t catch up on the weekends.

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. Although experts have suggested people spread out exercise evenly throughout the week, it’s not always doable for everyone.

An international team of researchers analyzed the exercise routines and health of more than 350,000 American adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2013 to see what could be learned about different approaches to activity physical.

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Health Benefits of Weekend Exercise

Over the years, study subjects were followed – each was followed for 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 per week had:

►An 8% lower risk of death from all causes 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 had slightly lower mortality risks than “weekend warriors”, as the researchers dubbed them. “But these differences were not statistically different, so we can say they are comparatively beneficial,” said one of the study’s co-authors. Donghoon Leea nutrition research associate at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, told USA TODAY.

How many Americans can benefit from more exercise?

Only about 23% of American adults regularly get 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, according to American Health Ranking.

Several people participating in an indoor exercise class.

Here’s how to make time to exercise

If you can’t exercise regularly (3-5 days a week), you can still get these health benefits by fitting 75-150 minutes of physical activity over one or two days, such as a weekend . Although the researchers focused on “weekend warriors,” Lee said, “it could be any day (or two days) of the week.”

Making time to exercise on the weekends 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.

Exercising on weekends “can be the first significant step toward improving your health,” said Paluch, who didn’t work on the study but is familiar with its results.

How do you know if it is moderate or vigorous exercise?

Vigorous exercise and physical activity lead to profuse sweating and a sharp increase in breathing and heart rate, Lee said. The CDC Vigorous Exercise Examples include swimming laps, running and jogging, tennis (singles), aerobics and cycling at 10 mph or faster. Vigorous exercise produces a heart rate of about 142 beats per minute or more, the CDC says.

Moderate exercise includes walking (at least 3 mph), cycling (less than 10 mph), ballroom dancing, and tennis (doubles). Moderate exercise results in a heart rate of around 109 or higher.

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What can help me stick to a new training plan?

Make it something you love. “Weekends should be fun and there are lots of ways to be active and have fun – explore a new hiking trail with a friend, go for a bike ride, catch up with friends for a game of tennis,” Paluch said.

Try something new. While activities you already enjoy are great options, there’s always something exciting about “a completely new activity that you’ve never done before,” she said.

Don’t overdo it at first. “If you’re just getting started, don’t try to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity in a weekend right away,” Paluch says. “Try for just 20 minutes every day and work your way up to avoid injury.”

If you can't exercise regularly (3-5 days a week), you can still benefit from 75-150 minutes of vigorous or moderate activity weekly over one or two days, according to new research.

If I exercise regularly now, does that mean I can slack off?

Not necessarily. “It’s 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 a week versus a more regular regimen spread out over the whole week.”

For example, more research will need to be done to compare the blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, or mental health of regular exercisers and “weekend warriors,” she said.

Regular exercisers who are active more than two days a week should continue. “A more regular schedule can help maintain good habits,” Paluch said. “More regular activity can also prevent injury and maintain or improve your fitness more effectively.”

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.

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Richard V. Johnson