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Struggling to get your steps in Monday to Friday? No sweat! New research shows you can make up for it on the weekend.

No time to work out during the week? Stop feeling guilty. In a life-changing revelation for the gym-phobic, new science has found adopting a ‘weekend warrior’ approach – aka packing your exercise into just two days a week – can offer similar benefits to spreading it across seven.

Yes, you read that right.

Some exercise is always better than none, of course. And according to the team of cardiologists from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing – reporting earlier this year in the journal Obesity – even if most of your physical activity takes place over the weekend (hello, Sunday stroll) it can still deliver seriously big advantages for your health, and your waistline.

But first, some facts. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical exercise (the type that leaves you puffing and, let’s be real, a sweaty mess).

This should ideally be spread over most, preferably all, days of the week – a target most of us struggle to meet.

Yet the new evidence, based on findings from more than 9,600 participants aged between 20 and 59, suggests that those who condense the weekly quota of activity into one or two days reap similar health benefits to those who spread their exercise over a week.

Results showed that both the weekend exercisers and regular active groups had lower belly fat, waist circumference, whole-body fat mass and BMI than the sedentary group.

Translation: early-morning gym classes are out and weekday sleep-ins are back.

It’s not the first time that analysts have shown the benefits of this approach. Three years ago, researchers who evaluated lifestyle data from 350,978 mostly middle-aged adults reported in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal that it didn’t matter whether participants packed their physical activity into two days or spread it more evenly through the week.

Both approaches proved to enhance longevity and reduce the risk of premature death compared with a sedentary lifestyle.

Dr Mark Homer, a senior lecturer in exercise physiology at Buckinghamshire New University, backs this thinking up, saying, “What the latest findings suggest is that it is the total amount of physical activity, and not so much the pattern of exercise, that matters for health gains.” Cue: applause.

So, as a weekend warrior, you would need to commit to 75 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on both Saturday and Sunday to meet the AIHW recommended quota.

“It’s doable,” affirms celebrity trainer, Dalton Wong. “And it can set you up for the week ahead in a positive way.”

Keen to try this novel approach? Here are the liberating new fitness rules for working out on the weekend.

Friday night: Make sure you stretch

Fact: your muscles will need some attention if you plan to squeeze all of your exercise into two days.

According to accredited exercise and sport scientist at Deakin University, Danielle Trowell, the best way to do this is to adopt “self-myofascial release techniques”, including regular massage and foam rolling.

“If you’re tight before or after a workout, make use of a foam roller to alleviate post-exercise muscle tightness.”

Gentle stretching is also a great way to ease down at the end of the day. Even five to 10 minutes of the gentle kind is a major win.

Saturday morning: Start with a walk

It counts, in more ways than one. Heading outside first thing, even if only for a short, brisk walk, means you clock up valuable steps as well as exposing yourself to natural daylight, which helps to naturally reset your body clock.

“A blast of fresh air and relatively gentle movement is the best way to start the weekend,” says Wong. Then, when you’re ready to ramp things up workout-wise, “gradually pick up the pace towards the end of the walk.”

It’s the ultimate, gym-free way to warm up the body and clear the mind.

Saturday mid-morning: A circuit class, boot camp or interval training session

When workouts are squeezed into a two-day window, it’s essential to factor in time for recovery.

Waiting until afternoon or evening to do a more vigorous form of exercise means less time for your muscles – and mind – to recover and reboot before going again on Sunday.

“The more time you can give your body to rest, the better you’ll be able to perform the next day,” confirms Trowell.

“Be sure to drink a lot of water and eat a light, carb-rich snack before each workout to aid this recovery process.”

Banana and peanut butter smoothie, coming right up.

Sunday morning: Aim for long, slow exercise

The reason? According to Wong, Sunday mornings are prime exercise time for one main reason: it’s the day of the week people are likely to have the most free time.

For that reason, he advises making this the timeslot for your longer duration, moderate-intensity exercise – the type in which you hit 50-60 per cent of your maximum heart rate.

Or, in other words, you’re able to chat when on the move.

 

doing less exercise
Sunday morning is the time we’re most likely to bot have anything else to do. Pic via Getty Images.

 

“I’m a massive believer in moving in the morning,” concurs personal trainer, Sam Wood.

“It’s good for both your mood and your energy levels. To ease into your weekend workout, try getting on a bike. It’s one of the best ways to boost your heart rate and burn calories with minimal impact.”

Start small and try cycling for 30 minutes without rest, then slowly build this up to reach your 75-minute target. For reference, that’s about the same length of time as two episodes of your favourite podcast.

See, totally doable.

Throughout the weekend: Squeeze in quick bursts of squats and lunges

Although the study focused only on the benefits of weekend aerobic workouts, according to health experts we also need resistance training to boost and maintain muscle strength.

A circuit session would be ideal, but any kind of resistance will be beneficial from a wellness perspective.

“Little incidental extras like squats and dips can go a long way,” says Wood.

“If you’re out on a long walk, set a goal to stop and do 20 dips or 20 squats every time you reach a bench. It only adds a minute or so to your walk, but it’ll do wonders for your muscle and bone health.”

Get a move on: Take up a new sport or exercise class

And not just for the physical benefits. Trying any new activity requires mental focus.

Added bonus? It also places different demands on muscles. Many constitute a vigorous form of exercise and if you’re playing with or against others – think anything from tennis to touch footy – the time will seem to pass more quickly.

“I recommend trying new sports, which will challenge the body in different ways and also mean you don’t get bored and lose motivation,” says Wong.

“Football, tennis or netball are great to get your heart rate up and include elements of twisting, turning and jumping, which build strength and mobility.”

Time to hit the turf.

Looking for more weight loss advice?

Everything you need to know about the DASH diet

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