A new study reveals the truth about cramming all your workouts in on the weekends
Federal guidelines recommend that you spend at least 2.5 hours a week on moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes on vigorous exercise. But what happens if you’re so swamped during the week that you only have time to squeeze in your workouts on the weekend?
Go ahead and cram away, a new study from Loughborough University in England suggests.
After analyzing lifestyle data from 64,000 adults, the researchers discovered that “weekend warriors”—those who did all of their exercising in just one or two days per week —were 30 percent less likely to die of any cause over 18 years than those who didn’t exercise at all. They were also 40 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 18 percent less likely to die from cancer.
Exercise increases your good cholesterol, while reducing artery-clogging triglycerides, says the Mayo Clinic. It also keeps your weight in check, which may lower your risk of cancer by reducing widespread inflammation, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“Every sustained bout of aerobic exercise improves blood pressure, cholesterol concentrations, and glucose metabolism for a day or two,” says lead study author Gary O’Donovan, Ph.D.
But it’s simple math: If you spread that exercise over several days, you’ll experience more of those day-after boosts. So it’s not really surprising that those who hit the recommendations by working out on three or more days per week had the lowest risks for death, heart disease, and cancer, according to Donovan.
Plus, if you’re sedentary 5 or 6 days of the week and then suddenly crank it up at the gym over the weekend, you also increase your risk of injury, says Jeffrey Spaw, M.D., a surgeon at College Station Orthopedics in Texas.
In fact, “weekend warriors” are at a higher risk for ankle sprains, shin splints, rotator cuff injuries, knee pain, and plantar fasciitis, Spaw says. That’s because more frequent exercise acclimates your joints and muscles to the increased movement.
People carrying extra weight will likely see the greatest risk, because more pounds mean more undue stress on joints and ligaments.
You can minimize your injury risk with some simple strategies, Spaw says. Perform a wider variety of physical activities—like combining cardio, weight training, and stretching to minimize repetitive strain on your joints and to strengthen the muscles surrounding them—and always include a warm-up.
Bottom line: If you can only hit the gym on weekends, that’s definitely better than not going at all. But if you can spread your workouts out, that’s even better. So keep your weekend gym sessions, but try to fit in other sessions during the week when you can—even if you’re just taking a brisk walk at lunch.