Just hitting it on the weekend does about as much for longevity as exercising on most days of the week as long as the cumulative weekly amounts are equivalent.
Standard Aerobic Exercise Recommendations
The World Health Organization, the American College of Sports Medicine and the US Department of Health and Human Services all recommend exercising most days of the week totaling:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, or
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) every week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity a week, or
- an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week.
More information in my column: Anti-Aging New Exercise Recommendations
Two different groups of scientists did studies of large cohorts of people to determine whether meeting the above recommendations in just one or two days had a different effect on mortality than spreading the volume over most of the week.
One study published in PubMed looked at data from 350,978 adults who self-reported physical activity to the US National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2013. The participants were 50.8% women and 67.8% Non-Hispanic White. The participants were followed during a median of 10.4 years (3.6 million person-years).
The participants divided into groups based on how active they were and the active group was further classified by pattern:
- Weekend warrior (1-2 sessions / week) or
- Regularly active (≥3 sessions / week)
The study concluded, “The findings of this large prospective cohort study suggest that individuals who engage in active patterns of physical activity, whether weekend warrior or regularly active, experience lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates than inactive individuals. Significant differences were not observed for all-cause or cause-specific mortality between weekend warriors and regularly active participants after accounting for total amount of MVPA; therefore, individuals who engage in the recommended levels of physical activity may experience the same benefit whether the sessions are performed throughout the week or concentrated into fewer days.”
A second study published in PubMed analyzed data on the amounts of exercise and mortality for 63,591 adult respondents to the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey (45.9% male; 44.1% female). Data were collected from 1994 to 2012 and analyzed in 2016. The respondents self-reported their leisure time physical activity, which was divided into activity patterns similar to the first study.
This study concluded, “Weekend warrior and other leisure time physical activity patterns characterized by 1 or 2 sessions per week may be sufficient to reduce all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality risks regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines.”
Both studies looked at very large cohorts so the conclusions are robust; however, the mean ages of the participants in the two studies were different. For the participants in the US study the mean age was 41.4 years with a standard deviation of 15.2 years. The participants in the UK study were significantly older with a mean age of 58.6 years and a standard deviation 11.9 years. The large standard deviations in both studies means that the ages were widely dispersed. Thus, despite the difference in mean ages in the studies, the conclusions are relevant to us.
The training paradigm is training overload + recovery = improvement.
In general the older we get the more recovery we need. Experienced riders in their 50s usually can handle two or three hard training days a week with four or five easier days including two very easy recovery days. Experienced riders in their 60s and beyond usually can handle one or two hard training days with five or six easier days including two very easy recovery days. “Hard” means more challenging, e.g., more miles, or faster rides or higher intensity workouts. Hard also means changing the type of exercise, e.g., incorporating resistance training or cross-training. You want to be fully recovered before the next hard day.
Weekend warriors and regularly exercisers may both experience lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality rates than couch potatoes. However, someone who just exercises on back to back days isn’t getting as much recovery and won’t improve as much as someone who spreads the exercise over multiple days.
If your life is busy and you feel guilty because you don’t exercise much during the week, then packing it into the weekend can help. Although not quite as effective for physical fitness than spreading your activity through the week, it’s better than not exercising.
On the other hand, if by Friday you’re starting to dread being a weekend warrior, then this isn’t for you.
We’re each an experiment of one. Figure out what works for you. Depending on your schedule, you could be a regular exerciser some weeks and a weekend warrior other weeks.
- Anti-Aging: New Research on Intensity, Fitness and Longevity
- Anti-Aging: Update on Exercise and Longevity
- Anti-Aging: Interval Training Increases Longevity
- Anti-Aging: Interval or Fartlek for Longevity?
- Anti-Aging: Avoiding Overtraining
- Importance of Recovery in your 50s, 60s and Beyond: 9 Tips on Cycling Recovery
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Anti-Aging describes the importance of strength training and includes 28 exercises for lower body, upper body and core strength illustrated with photos. It includes an annual plan to integrate strength training with endurance and intensity training. It also has 14 stretches illustrated with photos.
Anti-Aging includes an annual plan to put together all six of the aspects of aging well: cardiorespiratory exercise, intensity training, strength workouts, weight-bearing exercise, stretching and balance. The book concludes with a chapter on motivation.
The 106-page Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process your comprehensive guide to continuing to ride well into your 80s and even your 90s. The 106-page eBook is $15.95
Cycling Past 50, 60 and Beyond bundle includes:
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Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.