Does It Matter How Often You Work Out?

Can’t drag yourself to the gym today? Don’t sweat it—just log extra time tomorrow. When it comes to a few major exercise health benefits, it doesn’t matter how frequently you work out, as long as you get at least a total of 150 minutes of physical activity each week, according to new research published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 

The researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of 2,324 active Canadian adults who participated in the Canadian Health Measures Survey. Everyone in the study did at least 150 minutes of moderately intense to vigorous activity per week, but some people broke it up into five to seven weekly sessions, while others worked out one to four times a week. Both groups’ risk of health conditions like metabolic syndrome, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood fats and cholesterol, and high blood sugar was about the same. That said, the people who exercised for the most cumulative minutes per week were the healthiest.

That’s because the total amount, type, and intensity of activity all have a much greater affect on your body than frequency, says study author Ian Janssen, PhD, associate professor at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Canada.

So does this mean you can just work out for two and a half hours and then call it a day for the rest of the week? Not quite. The researchers didn’t look at the one-day-a-week option specifically (just one-to-four days, and five-to-seven), so it’s a stretch to say that you can work out just once and see the same health benefits as hitting the gym daily.

Also, while fewer, longer gym sessions might lower your cardiovascular risk factors, they won’t necessarily help you meet your fitness goals, like training for a big race or losing weight—and could even lead to joint irritation and muscle soreness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.

The bottom line: If you can’t squeeze in regular workouts, it’s OK to do two or three longer workouts each week—but exercising more frequently for shorter periods is still the ideal.

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