Diets don't work: Weekend warrior as good as daily gym bunny

Our Diets Don't Work blog is by Ascot-based personal trainer Adam Atkinson. He offers health and fitness advice on our websites.

Diets don't work: Weekend warrior as good as daily gym bunny

Adam Atkinson

If  - like many of us - you struggle to fit in exercise during the week don’t worry, as research now shows that exercising at the weekends can be similarly beneficial. 

Fitting exercise into the week can be really difficult. As personal trainers in the home environment we see first hand the time pressures that people are under. Getting kids ready for school; making breakfast; getting ready for work; a long commute followed by a long commute home; getting dinner sorted; putting kids to bed and then taking a minute to relax. Often this is all that can be realistically fitted into a day. Many people just don’t have the will to exercise after a long day, even if they do have the time. Sound like you?

Well, even if you have scoffed at the fat men in lycra clogging up the roads on their expensive bikes every weekend, the benefits of being a weekend warrior are surprisingly similar to those who manage to workout more often. 

Previous experts believed that a couple days’ of intense exercise wasn’t enough to counter the effects of a sedentary week at the desk.  But a large-scale study released last month suggests that weekend warriors actually get significant long-term benefits, with a lower risk of early death from cancer and heart disease.

Official NHS recommendations are that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or equivalent combinations. The study found that two weekend sessions of around an hour’s moderate to vigorous activity could satisfy this recommendation.

The study, by Loughborough University and published in JAMA Internal Medicine, followed over 63,000 British adults between 1994 and 2012 to see if exercise needed to be done on a daily basis.

During the study there were 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 from cancer. But the risk of death reduced significantly for those who exercised, regardless of whether they spaced it out of did it all at the weekend.

Compared to the couch potatoes, the weekend warriors had a 30 per cent lower risk of death overall, with a 40 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease and an 18 per cent lower chance of dying from cancer. Those who exercised regularly did better, but only slightly so – 35 per cent lower risk of death overall with a 21 per cent reduction in the chances of a fatal cancer.

So compared to the inactive, the weekend exercisers did remarkably well and were only marginally behind those who exercised more frequently.

Thus if you just don’t have time, or can’t face exercise after a long day, the weekend will still work! Remember that the more vigorous the exercise the greater the benefits will be. There are lots of options for you, from cycling to classes to running to bootcamps to circuits to a simple routine at home. Be sure to include some strength training – this is just as (if not more) beneficial as cardio. Do a warm up of 5 to 10 minutes and despite some recent studies stating otherwise, we’d still recommend stretching for 5-10 minutes afterwards.