Finding time to work out during the week amid all your other responsibilities is no easy feat. Between work, school, chores, social gatherings, and finding time to rest, some days the last thing on your mind is squeezing in a sweat session. (Sounds familiar? Here’s how to actually make time for self care when you have none.)
But the health implications of being a “weekend warrior” — that is, logging extra-long workouts on your one or two days off work to “make up” for lost time during the week — has been a debate among health experts for years. For instance, studies have found episodic bursts of exercise (read: chillin’ during the week and going super hard on the weekends) could boost your chances of injury or even cardiac issues.
However, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine on July 5, 2022 offers some promising intel for all the weekend warriors out there. Its findings indicate scoring a week’s worth of the recommended amount of physical activity (more on that later) in two days provides some of the same health benefits as spacing it out throughout the week.
In order to determine whether or not working out for longer periods of time in fewer days has the same benefits for mortality risk as working out for shorter periods of time throughout the week, researchers studied 350,978 adult participants. All participants reported no baseline chronic illness at the start of the study and self-reported their physical activity levels over the course of 10 years. (Related: How Much Exercise Is Too Much?)
Researchers first divided participants according to whether or not they met the recommended amount of weekly physical activity. ICYDK, the World Health Organization suggests adults do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. Those who did meet the recommendations were then divided according to whether they were active just one or two days per week (aka weekend warriors) or three or more days to determine if there was a difference in their risk of death caused by cardiovascular disease, cancer, or any cause.
The study findings suggest people who engage in physical activity, regularly or just on the weekends, have lower rates of mortality than those who are inactive. It also didn’t find “significant differences” between those who spread their sweat sessions throughout the week and those who only workout one to two days a week for the same amount of time. TL;DR: As long as you’re reaching the recommended amount of physical activity each week, how you space out your workouts doesn’t seem to matter much in terms of mortality risk, according to this study. (Related: Is It Bad to Work Out Every Day?)
“This is good news considering that the weekend warrior physical activity pattern may be a more convenient option for many people striving to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity,” concluded the study authors.
Brittany Robles, M.D., M.P.H., an ob-gyn, NASM-certified personal trainer, and founder of Postpartum Trainer, agrees. “I like this study because it proves that an exercise regimen can be personalized to whatever fits your schedule,” she tells Shape. “Prior studies have shown that you can get similar results in strength and muscle development training on fewer days of the week compared to more with equal resistance and repetitions,” adds Dr. Robles. “The key is that there appears to be a minimum threshold of exercise that will give you positive benefits, regardless of how you decide to split up the workouts,” she says of the new study.
While this study may offer some reassurance for so-called weekend warriors, keep in mind that researchers merely looked at mortality risk in this case, rather than other benefits of exercise, such as gaining muscle, losing weight, and improving mental health. How often and how intensely you work out depends on your specific health goals, and you should always consult your doctor to help you figure out the best fitness plan for you.