Everyone knows that physical activity is important for weight loss, but is just working out on the weekend really enough to get rid of that gut?
There’s surprisingly little research addressing this key question. Current guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization for physical activity to lose weight can range anywhere from 150-300 minutes a week, to completing 10- to 60-minute sessions of vigorous exercise, on most days of the week (1-4).
So much variance from various organizations can be quite confusing. But the good news is that new research has found that a “weekend warrior” approach to exercise could be just as effective or even better for weight loss when compared to exercising regularly.
The recent study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that weekly physical activity done fewer times but with longer duration was actually more effective for weight loss than shorter but more frequent exercise sessions (5).
The 24-week-long study included 75 women, ages 18-40, who were overweight and obese but otherwise healthy. The participants all had sedentary lifestyles with a willingness to introduce prescribed dietary changes and physical activity. The study randomly assigned the participants to one of two groups: a high-frequency exercise group and a low-frequency exercise group.
The high-frequency group completed 50 minutes of brisk walking six days per week while the low-frequency group completed 100 minutes of brisk walking three days per week. They also attended biweekly visits with a dietitian and exercise coach, plus used pedometers to measure adherence. At the end of the study, 59 participants successfully completed the intervention.
The results found that the low-frequency exercise group – or those who worked out for a longer time but fewer days per week – lost significantly more weight than the high-frequency exercise group even with the same dietary guidelines and total time of physical activity per week.
“[The findings] may be helpful for those who are neither willing nor able to schedule time for physical activity almost every day to achieve weight loss,” wrote the researchers in their publication (5).
For weekend warriors, the researchers’ findings offer encouragement. When it comes to weight loss, it’s not necessary to take an “all-or-nothing” approach to physical activity and days per week.
Based on this study, it may not be necessary to exercise every day or even most days of the week to still receive health benefits from physical activity. However, the researchers point out that other studies have found there are still great health benefits when it comes to working out consistently.
For example, studies have found that consistency with daily exercise might help to better ward off injuries and be better for heart health (6-7). Before starting any exercise program, it’s important to discuss appropriate activity level with a physician.
Regardless of how often a person chooses to work out, there’s little question that meeting the recommended minimum of 150 minutes per week can lead to considerable long-term health benefits and lower risk for a wide range of health issues.
- Pate RR, Pratt M, Blair SN, Haskell WL, Macera CA, Bouchard C, Buchner D, Ettinger W, Heath GW, King AC, et al. Physical activity and public health: A recommendation from the centers for disease control and prevention and the American college of sports medicine. JAMA 1995;273:402–7.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Global recommendations on physical activity for health [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2016 Sep 1].
- Donnelly JE, Smith B, Jacobsen DJ, Kirk E, DuBose K, Hyder M, Bailey B, Washburn R. The role of exercise for weight loss and maintenance. Best Pract Res Clin Gastroenterol 2004;18:1009–29.
- How much physical activity do adults need? (2015, June 04). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm Do Adults Need?
- Madjd A, Taylor M, Neek L, Delavari A, Malekzadeh R, Macdonald I, and Farshchi H. Effect of weekly physical activity frequency on weight loss in healthy overweight and obese women attending a weight loss program: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 November. 104(5):1202-1208. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.136408
- Roberts D, Ouellet JF, McBeth P, Kirkpatrick A, Dixon E, and Ball C.The “weekend warrior”: Fact or fiction for major trauma? Can J Surg. 2014 Jun; 57(3): E62–E68. doi: 1503/cjs.030812
- Dahabreh IJ, Paulus J. Association of episodic physical and sexual activity with triggering of acute cardiac events: systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2011 Mar 23;305(12):1225-33. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.336.