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Weekend Warriors Just as Healthy as Everyday Exercisers ​

Cramming your weekly workouts into a day or two doesn’t diminish health benefits, research suggests


spinner image illustration of a man leaning on a large barbell on a squat stand after reaping the heart health benefits of exercising on the weekend
Mikhail Seleznev / Getty Images

It doesn’t take much to derail a weekday workout: an unexpected meeting, family obligations, a last-minute dinner with friends. Before you know it, there’s no time to squeeze in a spin class.  

Sound familiar? Don’t sweat it, says Wes Troyer, D.O., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic, as long as you’re making time for exercise on the weekends. Accumulating research suggests that people who pack in the recommended weekly 150 minutes of physical activity over one to two days can reap the same health benefits as those who spread it out over the week.

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“There’s hope for people who are weekend warriors, or people that are putting in most of their time on the weekends,” Troyer says — and the data suggests that’s a lot of us.

A 2023 JAMA study of nearly 90,000 individuals found that roughly 42 percent of participants saved their workouts for the weekend, or at least condensed them to one or two days. And doing so still resulted in heart-health benefits.

Compared with inactive adults, the so-called weekend warriors had lower risks for heart disease and stroke, and these lower risks were similar to the benefits seen among individuals who distributed their exercise more evenly throughout the week. The weekend exercisers also had similarly lower risks of heart failure and atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm that can increase the risk of a cardiovascular event.

“Our findings suggest that interventions to increase physical activity, even when concentrated within a day or two each week, may [improve] cardiovascular outcomes,” senior author Patrick T. Ellinor, M.D., acting chief of the Cardiology Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in a news release. 

Another study, published this year in JAMA Network Open, found that adults who took at least 8,000 steps one or two days per week reduced their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 8.1 percent compared to less active adults. Study participants who hit the 8,000-step benchmark three to seven days per week cut their risk by 8.4 percent.

And a 2022 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that adults who were physically active, either throughout the week or just a few days a week, were much less likely to die prematurely than inactive adults. What’s more, the weekend warrior study participants had mortality rates similar to those of the participants who had multiple workout sessions during the week, “suggesting that when performing the same amount of physical activity, spreading it over more days or concentrating it into fewer days may not influence mortality outcomes,” the researchers note.

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“Just getting exercise is the important part of all this,” Troyer says, pointing to physical activity’s ability to help prevent heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. “It’s not so much the number of days that you’re doing it, but the amount of time that you’re doing it — that’s the important part.” 

Current guidelines say adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week (a brisk walk counts) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, like jogging or playing tennis, plus at least two days of muscle-strengthening activity. Still, most adults in the U.S. fall short; more than 60 percent don’t meet these recommendations, according to a report from the Surgeon General.

Staying injury-free 

If going all in on the weekend sounds like a recipe for injury, know that the researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital who led the 2023 JAMA study found that weekend warriors were no more likely to pull, break or tear something than study participants who were active several days a week.

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Still, if you decide to condense your workouts, there are some steps you can take to lower your odds of getting hurt. (If you’re new to exercise or have any chronic medical conditions, Troyer says, you should start by talking to your health care provider about the safest way to be active.) 

Warming up is important, Troyer says. He recommends starting a workout with dynamic stretching or by moving while doing a series of stretches — think of leg swings or side lunges, for example. This type of stretching has been shown to improve performance and reduce the risk of injuries.

Static stretching at the end of your workout is also important. It can help increase the range of motion in your joints, according to Glenn Shi, M.D., a Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeon. Stretching can also keep the muscles from becoming tight and tense. 

What’s key to being an injury-free weekend warrior, however, is listening to your body and knowing when to switch up your routine — or back off completely.

If you like running or playing an intense game of basketball but back-to-back days don’t feel great, opt for an activity that’s easier on the joints when stacking your workouts, like swimming, biking or doing the elliptical. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, yoga, boxing with a punching bag, dancing, badminton, snorkeling, and some types of gardening and yard work all count as moderate-intensity activities too.

“That way you can still stay active and get the benefits of the cardiovascular activity, but you’re not paying for it later,” Troyer says.

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