Saving Workouts for the Weekend

19 September, 2012

Sometimes, squeezing in a few walks or trips to the gym during the week is like wearing spandex -- you'd rather not. But can weekend exercise binges make up for it?

Depends on how healthy you are. If you have health-related risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or excess pounds to lose, burning the recommended 1,000 calories per week in just one or two exercise sessions doesn't appear to improve longevity. But spread that calorie-burning over four or five sessions during the week and you've got the makings of a longer, healthier life.

Here's why...

Exercise has short-term and long-term effects, but the short-term effects might be closely tied to the long-term benefits. For example, take a brisk walk and you'll immediately enjoy a lower systolic blood pressure. But that immediate benefit lasts for only a couple of hours. And if you walk only once a week -- whether it's for 20 minutes or 2 hours -- your heart is enjoying that short-term benefit just once a week. So long term, your health may not be affected as much as if you'd walked every day.

Another example? Triglycerides. Exercise, and your triglycerides will be lower within a 24-hour period. Exercise every day and they'll be progressively lower after 4 days. But if you exercise just once on the weekend, you probably won't get the same cumulative benefits.
All of this may help explain why researchers recently determined that the mortality rates of weekend warriors -- men in the study who burned 1,000 calories in just one or two exercise sessions per week -- were not much different than the mortality rates of men who burned fewer calories.

One caveat: You may be able to get away with (that is, add years to your life) being a weekend warrior if you are in relatively good health. That means no risk factors, such as excess weight, a smoking habit, hypertension, or poor cholesterol values. But let's face it -- few of us fall into that charmed space. And keep in mind this additional interesting study fact: The weekend warriors tended to be heavier than the men in the other exercise groups. So spreading out your calorie-burning could mean less spreading elsewhere.

SOURCES: The "weekend warrior" and risk of mortality. Lee, I. M., Sesso, H. D., Oguma, Y., Paffenbarger, R. S., Jr., American Journal of Epidemiology 2004 Oct 1;160(7):636-641.

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