How often have you felt guilty because you missed your workout? And how many times have you skipped it because you’d already missed a few days during the week?
Well, less may be more, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who contend that exercising just four days a week might be more beneficial than a daily workout. Guilt absolved!
The study is published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Researchers followed 72 sedentary women between the ages of 60-74 and divided them into three groups:
- 2 weekly workouts (one weight-training day and one cardio-endurance day)
- 4 weekly workouts (two weight-training days and two cardio-endurance days)
- 6 weekly (three weight-training and three cardio-endurance days)
Cardio-endurance training entailed either bike riding or jogging, and workout intensity was gradually increased to moderate levels for all groups.
At the end of the 16-week study, researchers found that all of the women lost weight and saw an increase in strength and endurance. Surprisingly, the twice-a-week exercisers were just as fit and strong as those who exercised six times per week.
The major difference, however, was that the women who exercised four times per week were expending far more energy on workout days – about 225 additional calories – than when the study began. They also burned more calories per workout than any other group.
By comparison, the twice-a-week group was burning about 100 more calories than it did at the beginning of the study, and the six-times-per-week group was actually burning fewer calories than at the beginning of the study – almost 200 fewer!
Fatigue and stress were ruled out as a factor, as all groups demonstrated similar levels of cytokines (protein molecules that signal stress) in the bloodstream.
Researchers noted that those who exercised two or four days per week felt more energized, and as a result, burned more calories throughout the day by increasing overall physical activity such as going for walks or taking the stairs. On the other hand, those who worked out nearly every day felt short on time and opted to minimize physical activity outside of exercise.
The Bottom Line
The study findings contradict past studies that imply a daily workout is necessary to improve health or lose weight. They also contrast with studies suggesting that vigorous daily activity may increase bodily stress and negatively affect the nervous system.
In comparing exercising on 2, 4, and 6 days a week, it appears that 4 days a week may be the sweet spot. Two times is too little; six times is too much.
The good news is that you don’t need to work out like an Olympiad to achieve health benefits; just working out two days a week showed this. Unfortunately, the vast majority of women, especially mature women, do little to no exercise at all.
If you’re struggling to get motivated, especially during the cold winter months, why not try Interactive Fitness Games? Or, check out your local college, YWCA, or gym to see what classes they offer that can get you motivated. Perhaps enlist your spouse or friend and join something that you can do together to keep moving.
Remember, it’s better to work out a little bit less and be more active overall than work out every day and compensate by moving less throughout the day.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.