Young women may benefit more from weekend exercise, study shows

It’s possible to lead a healthy, active lifestyle and maintain your social life, new research has found. ‘Weekend warriors’, or those who logged their physical activity as one or two sessions over Saturday and Sunday, could still experience the same benefits of fitness and exercise, such as fat-burning, as those reaped by the ‘regularly active’, revealed the study conducted at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China, and published in the journal Obesity.

Young women in particular stand to benefit, as those who worked out on the weekend were associated with a much lower BMI than their older or male counterparts. It’s worth noting, however, that the analysis found that these weekend exercisers tended to train harder and for longer than those who exercised during the week.

Among 9629 participants aged between 20 and 59, 772 (8.2%) were ‘weekend warriors’ and 3277 (36.9%) were ‘regularly active’, while 5,580 reported doing no activity.

What are the current exercise guidelines?

The NHS recommends that adults do ‘some type of physical activity every day’, with at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity or 75 minutes of vigorously intense activity per week.

Moderate exercise is typically classed as any activity that gets your heart rate up but still allows you to hold a conversation; intense exercise, on the other hand, makes you breathe hard and fast. It’s also suggested that you should ‘spread exercise evenly over four to five days a week, or every day.’

However, in the study, both the ‘weekend warrior’ and ‘regularly active’ groups had lower body and abdominal fat, lower BMI and a lower waist circumference compared to those who did no regular exercise.

young women weekend exercise

Betsie Van der Meer

Both the ’weekend warrior’ and ’regularly active’ groups had lower body and abdominal fat, BMIs and waist circumferences than the non-active.

The study also used a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, or DEXA scan, to measure overall belly fat, considered the most dangerous type for health. It takes into account fat tissue and bone density, so is a more sophisticated method than BMI.

Lihua Zhang, one of the authors and healthcare scientist at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Diseases at the university where the study was carried out, said to CNN that the ‘weekend warrior’ style could help ‘individuals who cannot meet the recommended frequency in current guidelines.’

How intensely were the weekend exercisers working out?

The weekend exercisers had the highest intensity of exertion (60.3%), longest duration of sessions (147.6 minutes) and highest total physical activity of sessions (214.1 minutes), so they worked out harder and longer than those who exercised during the week. It also means that they nearly hit the 150 minutes of recommended activity in just two days.

That may ‘partially explain our results while needing further investigation,’ Zhang said. People who can exercise for over two hours may have ‘a different type of exercise physiology where they can really push it for that long,’ Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, also told CNN.

If exercising for that long sounds daunting, however, fear not: any activity, however small, can make a difference. A study published last year in the European Heart Journal found that when ‘as little as four to 12 minutes per day were reallocated (from sitting) into moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA)’, people experienced benefits across BMI, waist circumference and cholesterol levels.

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