Over the years, weekend warriors have gotten a bad rap, but there’s finally some good news for those of us who can’t squeeze in daily workouts alongside work, family, commutes and other weekday obligations. It turns out that as long as you’re active on weekends, you can stop feeling guilty for skipping the gym during the week.
A 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that weekend warriors who crammed all of the recommended weekly physical activity — at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise — into one or two sessions experienced similar health benefits to those who exercised for less time over several days.
Researcher Gary O’Donovan, PhD, of the National Centre for Sport & Exercise Medicine at Loughborough University in England, calls the evidence in support of weekend warriors compelling, noting, “We had every reason to think it was beneficial to be more active more often but the data showed that getting large amounts of exercise in one or two sessions has significant health benefits.”
O’Donovan and colleagues analyzed data from 63,591 people over age 40 who completed surveys between 1994–2012 as part of the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey. They found that, compared to less active adults, weekend warriors had a 30% lower risk of death from any cause, a 40% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and an 18% lower risk of cancer death.
“Aerobic activity is one of the best predictors of health,” O’Donovan says. “This study shows that remains true even if the activities are done less often.” Although the research drew conclusions between cause and effect, Stuart Phillips, PhD, director of the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE) at McMaster University, believes the link could be attributed to intensity.
“Weekend warriors save their exercise for the weekend and tend to go all out doing hard, intense work [and] this shock to the system is a like giving the body a high-voltage charge,” he explains. “Someone who does [lower-intensity exercise] five days per week might not go as hard.
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“The weekend shock obviously provides protection against chronic disease similar in nature to the persistent everyday exerciser,” Phillips adds.
O’Donovan applauds weekend warriors, suggesting the intermittent exercisers keep up the good work. The research, he believes, illustrates that, when it comes to exercise, “Quality may be more important than quantity.”
It is better, he says, to do fewer sessions of vigorous exercise — like running or playing soccer — once or twice a week than to engage in low-to-moderate intensity exercise more often.
“People have perhaps forgotten the intensity is the opposite of duration, so what you give up in duration lots of work has now shown that you can make up for with increased intensity,” notes Phillips. Thus, infrequent, intermittent weekend exercise with a full-on effort is still protective and good for your health.”