Cramming your week’s workouts into a day or two may be just as good for you as exercising regularly

Get in those miles whenever you can.
Get in those miles whenever you can.
Image: Reuters/Rogan Ward
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Busy people may find it difficult to carve out even just 30 minutes a day on top of work and family responsibilities during the week. But don’t despair: You may still be able to get some of the health benefits of exercise by making up all your workouts on the weekend.

A team of researchers led by scientists at the Loughborough University in England found that adults who reported cramming in the recommended amount of exercise—150 minutes of moderate work or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise—over just one or two days per week still had lower risks of cancer and heart disease than those who didn’t exercise at all. The finding was published (paywall) in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Jan. 9.

For their work, researchers examined self-reported workout habits from 63,591 adults averaging around 59 years old who responded to an English and Scottish health survey from 1994 to 2012. They compared these responses to cause of deaths listed on death certificates of the respondents who died while the survey was open—8,802 of them. People who categorized themselves as “weekend warriors”—that is, didn’t work out during the week, but spent their weekends running or hiking to make up for it—had similarly lower risks of death from cancer and heart disease (and death overall) as those who spread out their workouts over the week.

The researchers grouped the survey respondents into four categories: weekend warriors; exercisers who spread out their workouts; people who worked out a couple times per week, but didn’t hit that 150/75 minute goal; and those who didn’t exercise at all.

In all the outcomes considered—any kind of death, death by cancer, death by heart disease—all three groups of exercisers had lower death rates than those who didn’t exercise at all. And those who exercised regularly were only slightly better off than weekend warriors or people who exercised once or twice a week for shorter amounts of time.

These results are just links, and can’t definitively say that any specific kind of exercise prevents cancer or heart disease. They also don’t take into account the mental health benefits of exercise; working out has been shown to boost moods and combat depression and anxiety, likely through the release of endorphins in the brain. But, the data do show that some exercise is better than none, and that some of the health benefits may be the same no matter when you work in your workouts.