Being active is a very good indicator of overall health and wellness. It’s recommended that we exercise at a moderate intensity for 150 min a week at about 30 min for 5 days a week. The 30-minute bouts can be broken into smaller intervals of 10 minutes as well. But what if you haven’t got the time for 5 neatly spaced sessions over the course of a week? A burning question is whether you need to spread the exercise out over the course of week, or can you get it all done on the weekend in two or even one session and receive the same health benefits? This is of particular interest when exercising for longer periods of time in two sessions on the weekend, is all you may be able to manage during a busy week.
The good news is that recent research indicates that being a weekend warrior has health benefits and can decrease the risk of death (mortality). But does this pattern of cramming exercise into one or two sessions, offer the same benefit as spreading the exercise over the course of a week?
Surprisingly, a large study of more than 63,000 men and women reported on the disease and death rates of adults, and found that those who exercise for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity over the weekend, have similar risk of disease and a similar risk of death compared with those who exercise on a more regular basis during the week. So, what does this mean? Specifically, the ‘weekend warriors’ had a 40% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, 18% lower risk of death due to cancer and 30% lower risk of death in general, compared with people those who did not meet the recommended exercise guidelines. This is good news!
Despite this initial good news, there is still a lot we don’t know about the specific effects on the body of cramming exercise into the weekend. For example, we don’t understand about how these differences in exercise training habits directly affects strength, endurance, and cardiovascular status. The intervals and rest needed between exercise training bouts to optimize strength gains for example, is typically recommended at less than 5-6 days, and more like 2-3 days! We also don’t understand the effects on blood pressure control, weight loss, diabetes prevention and management, depression and stress reduction which are all benefits of regular exercise that is typically spread out over the week.
Finally, there is potentially a heightened risk of musculoskeletal injuries injury associated with performing the vigorous or high-intensity movement needed for the optimal benefits all crammed into one-two days each week. Certainly, new evidence shows that short bouts of intense-vigorous exercise can be of great benefit to health and fitness and was addressed in a recent blog. These high intensity exercises, however, require the muscles to perform very close to maximal capacity and strength, and if not done regularly, can result in muscle soreness. So, accumulating the 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise all in one day, and only once a week, could expose you to greater risk of injury. Furthermore, this risk of injury for this exercise pattern is likely to be greater as you age.
So, for now, it is best to keep active every day or every other day. Even short 5-10-minute bouts of exercise can be integrated into your daily life with a bit of planning and thought rather than keeping it all to the weekend! Read our 10-minute march to fitness blog.
O’Donovan, G., et al. (2017). “Association of “Weekend Warrior” and Other Leisure Time Physical Activity Patterns with Risks for All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality.” JAMA Intern Med 177(3): 335-342