What Happens When You Only Exercise on Weekends

January 13th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

Generally speaking, Americans don't exercise enough. But new research shows you don't have to hit the gym every day to improve your health.

People who work out exclusively on weekends are actually doing quite a lot for their bodies, according to a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. So-called "weekend warriors" are 40 percent less likely to die from a cardiovascular disease, the study found, 18 percent less likely to die from cancer.

That's what researchers concluded after analyzing the exercise habits and causes of death for more than 63,000 adults, who were included in two national surveys that lasted from 1994 to 2012. But before pushing your date with the gym to the weekend, one thing to keep in mind is that "weekend warriors" are still getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise; they're just condensing it to one or two sessions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), adults should do 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of intensive workouts, every week. Only 1 to 2 percent of Americans actually qualify as "weekend warriors" by this standard, a 2007 study found. And some argue that's a good thing as research suggesting it prevents an early death shouldn't be read as meaning its the best approach to improving overall health. 

Brian Parr, an associate professor of exercise and sports science at the University of South Carolina, told CNN that the problem with this study is that it only focuses on mortality.

"It doesn't tell us much about how these activity patterns impact health the way most of us would consider it, from controlling blood pressure, diabetes and blood lipids, to depression and weight control," Parr said. "It also doesn't say anything about fitness, including strength, endurance and flexibility, which is an important reason many people are active."

Failing to account for factors such as fitness can be problematic because engaging in intensive exercise in short bursts can raise the risk of injuries. Health organizations such as the American Osteopathic Association discourage the "weekend warrior" workout routine.

So while the weekend-only workout method might make it so that you're less likely to die from certain diseases, compared to those who don't meet their weekly recommended exercise requirement, it's still not the best way to protect and improve one's health.

[h/t CNN]