Surprising facts about Weekend Warriors

When it comes to living longer, “weekend warriors” may be on to something, according to a new study. When researchers reviewed the physical activity patterns of more than 350,000 people, they found that those who worked out once or twice a week had a lower risk of early death from diseases like heart disease and cancer than those who exercised more often.

If that seems counterintuitive, consider this: “The total time spent exercising seems to be more important,” says Edward Giovannucci, MD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. A co-author of the study. “For example, doing an hour and a half every weekend day, for a total of three hours, is as good as half an hour on six days.”

Whether you’re a weekend warrior—or want to be one—here’s everything you need to know about weekend-only exercise.

Weekends can be good for your schedule. If you’re struggling to work through the week, you’re hardly alone. According to the CDC, only 24 percent of us actually meet physical activity recommendations. It’s understandable. Life is busy. Between work, home, family and having a social life, it can be difficult to hit the gym or track most weekdays. But what if you could play the weekend with a hike on Saturday afternoon and a long bike ride on Sunday morning? Then, you can easily do the 150 minutes of moderate (or 75 minutes of vigorous) aerobic exercise weekly that health experts recommend.

Exercise isn’t just about longevity. While weekend workouts may help you live longer, they may not provide the other benefits of more frequent activity. Take mental health, for example. “Psychologically, many people think of exercise as a form of stress management,” says Christopher Gagliardi, MS, CPT, scientific education content manager for the American Council on Exercise. So, if you trade your regular post-work jogs for the weekend, you might lose that daily mood boost.

Regular activity does many other good things for your body that aren’t obvious, Gagliardi says. Whether it’s a leisurely walk or a hardcore spin class, exercise can help lower your blood pressure and resting heart rate. And since your muscles rely on glucose for fuel, frequent workouts help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

Then there is fitness. Depending on your goals, weekend workouts may not always be practical. “If you can dedicate two hours per week to exercise, it’s okay to spread it out over the weekend or week,” Giovannucci says. “But if you want to do more, say seven hours a week, it’s not reasonable or possible to do it in one or two days.” On the other hand, if you’re just starting out, spending a few hours at the gym or on the trail may be more than your body is ready for.

Regardless of your fitness level, injuries are a real concern. “The longer the exercise, the more repetitions without recovery, which can increase your risk of injury,” says Gagliardi. “So, know your limits and pay attention to how you feel.”

Is the weekend workout right for you? “Our results should not be interpreted as indicating that it is best to be a weekend warrior,” says Giovannucci. “I still believe that doing more on more days is better, if possible, but the main message is that almost is better than nothing.” So, if a few weekend runs, hikes or bike rides work for you, go for it. But if you can squeeze in a few short sessions a week, even better.

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