With the New Year, comes a lot of talk about one topic in particular: Exercise. You might be wondering how many times a week you should work out — and on that front, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that, according to recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, you may only need to work out one day a week to experience benefits including a lowered risk of cancer, cardiovascular issues, or other health problems. The bad news, though, is that there's a catch.
Researchers looked at survey data from over 63,000 men and women who were age 40 or older between the years 1994 and 2012. The surveys in question were the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey, meaning the data used in the analysis was self-reported from people about their own exercise and related hobbies. When looking at people's exercise habits (with patterns defined as "inactive," "weekend warrior," and "regularly active") in comparison to their death rates, the researchers found that "1 to 2 session per week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity leisure time physical activity was sufficient to reduce all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality risks regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines."
That's the catch, by the way: If you want to work out just once or twice a week, it needs to be fairly intensive. According to this study, you would need to be doing at least 75 minutes of rigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise to see the benefits if you're only working out once or twice a week.
This seems counter to common knowledge; after all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities at least two days per week. But while many people break up their workout time by exercising for shorter periods more frequently — say, 30 minutes a day several days a week — some people prefer to exercise in longer, more intense bursts, or only have time to get to the gym once or twice a week. For these folks — so-called "weekend warriors" — the current study's findings will be welcome news indeed: It turns out that you may not need to follow the CDC's guidelines to reap the benefits of a regular workout.
As Elizabeth Narins at Cosmo explains, this study suggests that even minimal amounts of exercise put you in a healthier position than people who do not exercise at all. For instance, people who exercise even minimally have a 30 percent lower risk of death overall. While your chances of dying are based on a number of personal factors, this figure is pretty mind-blowing — just taking a brisk walk on a regular basis could extend your life significantly.
Of course, it's also important to remember that people exercise for all different reasons — which, in turn may impact whether you work out once a week or many times. For many people, for example, exercising can lead to lower stress levels, better concentration, and more energy. Exercise can also be a social activity, especially if you and your friends attend a class together or part of a sports team. For people who work out for these and other similar reasons, it might make more sense to work out more frequently — working up a sweat three times a week, for example, might help keep your stress levels in check throughout the week better than getting it all done in one go.
No matter what your needs are, though, how often you exercise — and, indeed, whether you do it at all — is a choice you make for yourself. As such, there's no need to feel pressured to do what your body isn't ready for, or what you simply don't want to prioritize at any given time. Your body, your choice!