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Weekend warriors may be right about longevity, a new study suggests. When researchers examined the physical activity patterns of more than 350,000 people, they found that those who exercised once or twice a week had the same lower risk of early death from diseases such as heart disease and cancer as those who exercised regularly.
If that seems counterintuitive, consider this: "The total amount of time spent exercising seems to matter more than the amount of time spent exercising," says Edward Giovannucci, MD, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, who co-authored the study. "Like an hour and a half every weekend, three hours in total, that's half an hour six days in a row."
Whether you're a weekend warrior or want to be one, here's what you need to know about weekend sports.
Weekends might work better for you. If you work hard during the week, you're not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 24 percent of people actually meet the physical activity recommendations. This is understandable. Life is busy. Between work, home, home and social life, it's hard to get to the gym or track most weekdays. But what if you can catch up on a weekend, like a Saturday afternoon hike and a Sunday morning long bike ride? Then you can easily get the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic exercise a week that health professionals recommend.
Exercise isn't just about longevity. While weekend workouts may help you live longer, they may not provide some of the other benefits of being more active. Take emotional health, for example. "Mentally, many people think of exercise as a form of stress management," says Christopher Galiardi, science education content manager for the American Athletic Council. Therefore, if you replace your jogging after work with a long weekend run, you may lose your daily mood boost.
Galiardi says regular exercise has many other, less obvious benefits for your body. Whether it's a leisurely walk or a spinning class, exercise can help lower blood pressure and resting heart rate. Since your muscles rely on glucose for energy, regular exercise can also help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Then there is health. Depending on your goals, weekend workouts may not always be feasible. "If you can fit in two hours a week, you can do it on the weekend or spread it out during the week," Giovannucci says. "But if you want to do more, say seven hours a week, it may not be desirable or feasible to do it in a day or two." On the other hand, if you're just starting out, spending hours at the gym or walking trails may be more than you can physically handle.
Injuries are a real problem, no matter your fitness level. "The longer you do it, the more repetitions you do, and you don't recover, and that can increase your risk of injury," Galiardi said. "So know your limits and pay attention to how you feel."
Is weekend Exercise for You? "Our findings should not be interpreted as the best choice for weekend warriors," Giovannucci said. "I still think it's better to do more on more days if possible, but the key message is that almost anything is better than nothing." So if a weekend run, hike, or bike ride works for you, do it. But if you can squeeze in some short exercises during the week, all the better.
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