In order to get the benefit of exercise, you’re supposed to do it regularly. But what if you just don’t have time? “Well then, you should make time,” the fitness freaks will tell you, as they return from their five-mile 5 a.m. runs and throw a handful of chia seeds into their “delicious” kale smoothie.
They’re not wrong–though they are about leaving the house before breakfast–but they’re not as right as they think: Researchers in the U.K. and Australia have discovered that you can cram a whole week’s worth of exercise into one or two weekend sessions and still get significant health benefits.
The research, from Loughborough University and the University of Sydney, shows that even just being moderately active can cut your risk of an early death by one-third.
The study looked at 64,000 people, using data from the Health Survey for England, and Scottish Health Survey, with data from 1994 to 2012. Researchers compared the levels of physical activity of the respondents–sports and exercise, but also things like gardening, heavy housework, and walking–with the likelihood of heart disease and other mortality risks.
The results showed that the risk of all-cause mortality was 30% lower in adults who did at least some regular activity. This includes “weekend warriors,” the people who squeeze the WHO-recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, into one or two weekend sessions. In other words, a good long bike ride, or some kind of sport, at the weekend is enough to stop you from dying early.
This is great news. Of course, exercising daily is the best way to get the maximum health benefits from your activity, as well as keeping your mind in tip-top condition. But a little is a lot better than nothing, says this study. Great is the enemy of good, the saying goes, and many people might skip all exercise on the grounds that if it’s not done properly, it’s not worth doing at all. And guess what? Staying in bed instead of rising before the sun comes up to go running on cold streets has its own health benefits. Next time your smug friend rags you about your lack of regular exercise, ask them how much sleep they get each night.