To be classified as a weekend warrior, as the medical literature defines it, one must stuff the recommended weekly exercise requirement of 150 minutes or more into one or two days rather than spreading it out evenly over the week. While it seems like a lot of modern 9-to-5-ers would fall into this category, a 2007 survey found that only 1 to 3 percent of U.S. adults qualified as “weekend warriors.” Of those that did fit the bill, the low-intensity activity of gardening was as popular among the exercisers as more intense forms of activity, such as training or competing in a sport.
Of course, the proper amount—or more accurately, the absolute minimum acceptable amount—of exercise has been considerably discussed in cardiovascular research. It’s clear that many Americans aren’t able to meet the CDC’s recommendations, and research has lately endeavored to find out the health benefits of lesser amounts of exercise. After all, as sales of Thighmasters and Tae-Bo tapes show, people are interested in fitness programs and weight-loss products that promise quick results.
So while the weekend warrior was once disparaged as an exercise dilettante, sports-medicine experts are starting to recognize the value of any exercise, even if it takes place in spurts. Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician and author of The Exercise Cure, says, “While more consistent exercise is optimal, the clearest information is that doing nothing is the least favorable option, making any amount of exercise or activity helpful.”
But can occasional exercisers get enough out of infrequent activity to make a real difference in their health? Yes, according to one 2004 study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which found that one to two workout sessions per week were enough to reduce all-cause mortality among those with no major risk factors. The authors conclude the study with the statement, “For individuals with no major risk factors who are too busy for daily exercise, this may offer a measure of encouragement.”
In contrast, for those that prefer their exercise in regular but small, doses, recent research in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests that just five minutes of daily running may be enough to stave off all-cause mortality. After researching the association of running and mortality over a 15-year period in more than 55,000 runners, researchers concluded, “Running, even five to 10 min/day and at slow speeds [of less than] six miles per hour, is associated with markedly reduced risks of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease.”
This led the authors of the study to conclude that vigorous-intensity activity, such as running, may be a more time-efficient option, generating similar, if not greater, health benefits in 5 to 10 minutes a day than 15 to 20 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity.