"Starting today, I'm going to go to the gym five days a week!" we tell ourselves.
We enthusiastically tie up our gym shoes every day for a couple weeks, but the routine is hard to keep up. There are late nights at work. Sick kids. The need to sleep in after last night's Netflix binge.
Are we totally screwed? Not necessarily. A new study found that people who work out just once a week still reap the health-boosting benefits of exercise. The research was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Here's the catch though: The people the researchers studied essentially crammed a week's worth of workouts into one or two sessions.
The standard recommendation for exercise each week is 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. Doctors usually recommend we aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. But that's a lot of back and forth to the gym, especially during a busy work week. What if you have an hour or two free on the weekend? Go ahead and pack it all in, the researchers found. You'll still reduce your risk for heart disease and cancer.
The study examined data from 63,591 middle-aged participants who participated in a Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey. From 1994 to 2012, study participants reported how many minutes they exercised each week, what kind of exercise they did and how frequently. The researchers organized the data and broke people into three groups:
- Inactive: People who never exercised
- Regularly active: People who exercised regularly throughout the week, hitting the recommended time of 150 moderate minutes or 75 vigorous minutes over three or more days
- Active weekend warriors: People who also hit the recommended time, but all condensed into one or two workouts
Those who met the exercise requirements -- whether they spread out their workouts over the week or jammed everything into a couple sessions -- were about 30% less likely to have died than the inactive people. Both groups of active exercisers saw similar longevity numbers. And even those who didn't hit 150 minutes of exercise a week benefited.
Here's what New York Times Well reported about the study results:
It turned out that exercise, in any amount, had substantially lessened the risk that someone would die from any cause, including heart disease and cancer. Men and women who exercised, even if they did not meet the guideline recommendations, were about 29 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never worked out.
The takeaway? Get moving and do something. Anything. Even if the only activity you can squeeze in today is to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It's better for your longevity than doing nothing at all.