The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. A study recently published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise in one or two workouts may extend longevity as much as routine exercise.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 63,000 people and followed them for about nine years. They categorized participants into four categories: those who exercised at least three time a week; those who exercised occasionally, but did not meet the physical activity recommendations; “weekend warriors” who exercised once or twice weekly and did meet the recommendations; and those who were sedentary. The scientists found that weekend warriors were 30 percent less likely to die from any cause during the study period compared to those who were sedentary. Additionally, the weekenders were 40 percent less likely to die from heart disease and almost 20 percent less likely to die from cancer compared to those who were inactive. Participants who exercised occasionally, but did not meet the recommendations, still lowered their risk of premature death compared to those who didn’t exercise at all.

These results are consistent with a study that was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2004. While the research is intriguing, there are limitations within this latest study worth noting.  Activity levels were self-reported, and physical activity was only assessed at the beginning of the study, so researchers wouldn’t have known if participants had changed their exercise habits over the nine-year period. This study also did not explore the risk of injury to those who only exercised occasionally. In fact, the American Osteopathic Association discourages being a weekend warrior due to the increased risk of injury.

Weekend warriors appear to reduce their risk of premature death. But if you adopt this strategy, you may miss out on other well-established advantages of engaging in physical activity on a regular basis. Routine exercise can:

  • build strength and endurance
  • aid in weight management
  • improve balance
  • increase bone density
  • boost brain power

Some of the benefits listed above take time to materialize, and we humans are wired for instant gratification. Fortunately, whether you notice it or not, your body starts responding to physical activity right away. So next time you’re feeling unmotivated to move, think about the immediate effects you can look forward to:

  • lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • a rush of endorphins that instantly boosts your mood
  • energy and nutrients delivered to your tissues
  • mental clarity
  • lowered stress
  • deeper sleep (Engaging in cardio can extend this perk to the following night as well.)
  • minimized fluctuations in blood sugar throughout the day (which can lower your risk of diabetes)

You can ride the high of the immediate impact of exercise, and trust in the power of your actions, until you reap its intermediate and long-term effects.

Your personal goals should determine the way you go about being active. If you want to lower your risk of disease, it appears a couple of weekly sessions may do the trick. If you want to gain additional mental, emotional and physical payoffs down to the cellular level, more frequent doses may be best. And if you’re looking to get sculpted, a more intense regimen is needed. When you limit workouts to weekends, you miss out on a daily opportunity for self-care and don’t get to enjoy the immediate effects as often. Exercise is revitalizing now and well into the future. Why deprive yourself?

Check out a few of our past posts for your fitness journey:

If you need help injecting variety into your exercise routine so you stick with it, check out this post.

If you don’t have time to drive to the gym, you can fit in a workout at home. Cutting out the commute provides more time to exercise. You can find workouts of all different intensities and lengths (as short as a few minutes) online. This post is packed with fitness websites you can explore.

The recommended approach is to make exercise a regular affair. But if your schedule simply doesn’t allow it, some activity when you can get it is still better than none. If you can’t exercise throughout the week, and you use that as an excuse to skip weekend workouts thinking they won’t make a difference anyway, the science doesn’t support that. So sign up for that yoga class or take a hike.