Science says you don't have to exercise every day to be healthy

If “being healthy” equates to not dying an early death.

Woman using smart phone on exercise mat in front of her laptop. Sporty girl is exercising at phone o...
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I exercise multiple times a day. As a yoga and group fitness instructor, it’s kind of comes with the territory — though I don’t actually get paid for all of it. I add in daily cross-training because I love it, and I know it’s good for me. But according to a new study, working out every day isn’t necessary. This new research suggests that weekend warriors reap similar health benefits as folks who work out every day. Let’s discuss.

The study, which was published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at health data for more than 350,000 people between 1997 and 2013. The scientists conducting the research had only one question: Do people who exercise frequently — several times a week — have more health benefits than so-called “weekend warriors”? The answer, surprisingly, was no — at least when it comes to lifespan.

In the 10-plus years when the data was collected, 22,000 of the participants died — as is bound to happen. But researchers found no significant difference in the mortality rates from cancer or cardiovascular disease between people who worked out regularly versus those who did it in spurts. The takeaway: As long as you get the W.H.O. recommended amount of exercise, when or how you do it doesn’t seem to affect your mortality rate.

“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," the authors wrote in the study. I can, to an extent, see the appeal in getting all of your requisite activity done in a couple sessions rather than having to think about it or make time for it every day. But it’s important to note that the amount of exercise W.H.O. recommends is kind of a lot — 150–300 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75–150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise. That’s quite a bit to fit into a Saturday, no?

This study, while fascinating, leaves me feeling a little sad. Are we really just exercising to not die? Where’s the joy in that? Exercise is shown to have numerous social and mental health benefits. I know this new study may come as really good news to those who work a lot or just don’t love hitting the gym. Personally, I’d rather die younger than live chained to a desk chair. Look: It’s one thing if you’re using your time in other fulfilling ways — but if not, exercising regularly can be a crucial component of being a happy person.