Lose fat exercising just two days a week

We know the drill. According to the World Health Organization, we should all be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity every single week for optimal health and weight.

But really, who has time for that much exercise? It’s often all anyone can do to keep up with work and home chores, not to mention caring for kids if they have them.

That’s why scientists have been exploring whether it’s truly necessary to get that much exercise to stay healthy. So far, the research into short exercise “bursts” has been all over the map, with studies finding cardiovascular and brain health benefits from 12 minutes, 10 minutes and even 2 minutes a day of moderate-to-high intensity exercise.

But what about weight loss? Surely you need to do more than a couple minutes a day of exercise if you’re going to lose weight — or do you?

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‘Weekend warriors’ lost just as much

In the first study of its kind, a team of researchers examined the association between physical activity patterns and objectively measured fat tissue mass. They looked at data from more than 9,600 participants in the U.S.-based National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey ranging in age from 20 to 59.

The researchers collected physical activity levels from a questionnaire and split the respondents into three categories:

  • Inactive;
  • Weekend warriors — meaning they exercised one to two days a week;
  • and regularly active.

Weekend warriors accounted for 8.2 percent of total respondents, while the regularly actives accounted for almost 37 percent.

In addition, the researchers used a body composition scan and anthropomorphic measures to determine abdominal and general fat composition.

Compared to the inactive participants, both the weekend warrior and regularly active groups had lower abdominal fat content, waist circumference, whole-body fat mass and body mass index (BMI). These two groups were younger than the inactives and were also less likely to be unemployed or to have hypertension or diabetes.

In short, the researchers found that the weekend warriors who exercise only once or twice a week can lose weight similar to those who exercise on a regular basis as long as they achieved the recommended physical activity goals.

“The weekend warrior pattern is worth promoting in individuals who cannot meet the recommended frequency in current guidelines,” says Lihua Zhang, health care scientist, Fuwai Hospital, National Center for Cardiovascular Diseases, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China. Zhang is one of the corresponding authors of the study.

These results could be important to office workers, bus drivers and other employees who have to sit for many hours during the workday. “Those people are struggling to catch up in their exercise plan in daily life to offset the hazard of a sedentary lifestyle but have less free time to get to the gym,” Zhang says. “Our study could offer them an alternative choice to keep fit.”

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Activities to ramp up your weekends

To reduce abdominal fat, previous studies have recommended extensive lifestyle modifications such as adopting a Mediterranean diet, rigorously planned exercise and sleep restriction. But outside of the study environment, these modifications have proven hard to stick to.

For this reason, the researchers say targeted physical activity over a shorter period could be more accessible for busy individuals.

It’s worth noting that the weekend warriors’ workouts were of higher intensity and longer duration, and that more intensity and duration correlated with even lower abdominal fat.

Zhang says some suitable physical activities for weekend warriors include climbing, hiking, cycling or running. All of these activities involve a moderate-to-vigorous level of exercise.

It might take a while to build up the stamina and endurance needed to get these benefits from just two days of exercise, but anything worthwhile is worth putting time into.

As is always the case when beginning a new fitness regime, you should check with your doctor before adopting a “weekend warrior” style of exercise — especially if you have any existing health problems. They can help you decide what activities to adopt and how often and for what duration you should do them.

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Study: whether you exercise regularly or one-to-two days a week, weight loss is possible — EurekAlert!

The associations of “weekend warrior” and regularly active physical activity with abdominal and general adiposity in US adults — Obesity

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.