You Don’t Have to Exercise Every Day to Reap Health Benefits

You are committed to exercising to keep fit, but somehow cannot find the time for it every day. Your good intentions are thwarted by late nights, late mornings, a headache, a child with a toothache, and a million other reasons.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people who take part in regular physical activity reduce their risk of suffering from coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as hypertension, diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and depression. Regular exercise also aids in weight management.

So, how much and how often should you exercise to secure these benefits? In its report titled Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health, of 2010, WHO makes the following recommendations for people in different age groups:

Age five to 17 years:

They should engage in at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity exercise every day.

Age 18 to 64 years:

WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week. You could also combine moderate and vigorous-intensity exercise for the same duration of time, or do 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity.

Age 65 and above:

WHO recommends the same physical activity for people aged 65 as that recommended for age 18 to 64. However, people in this age group who suffer from poor flexibility should perform physical activity on three or more days per week, to enhance balance and prevent falls. They should also strengthen their muscles by exercising the major muscle groups for two or more days a week.

WHO recognizes that health conditions may limit the amount of exercise some in this age group can perform. In such cases, WHO recommends being as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

So, when should you fulfill your weekly quota, so to speak? According to findings published in March 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, how often you exercise does not determine the health benefits you get.

Research Associate Gary O’Donovan and coworkers at Loughborough University in England surveyd more than 63,000 people in England and Scotland on their exercise habits. O’Donovan and colleagues were looking for an association between physical activity and mortality.

According to O’Donovan and company, people who exercised only once or twice a week reduced the threat of dying early from any cause by 30% to 34%, compared to those who did not exercise. Interestingly, people who exercised most days of the week lowered their risk by 35% – not such a great difference.

The findings give credence to the notion that some physical activity helps evade premature death. Therefore, if you squeeze the recommended 150 minutes a week into one or two days, take heart, you will enjoy the health benefits. Moreover, even if you fall short of the threshold and put in fewer minutes, you still benefit.

The researchers also found that exercise was effective in reducing death related to heart disease. Interestingly, both those who exercised regularly as well as those who exercised a few days a week cut their risk by about 40%.The results were the same for cancer. Those who exercised cut their risk by 18% to 21%, against those who were inactive. The frequency of the activity didn’t matter. It was remarkable that the health benefits accrued even to overweight and obese people.

O’Donovan’s results are for moderate-to-vigorous exercise that people did as part of an exercise regime. The survey didn’t ask respondents about housework or physical activity that they engaged in in the course of their everyday work. However, the survey included brisk walking.

So, take heart, “weekend warrior.” Fight your battle whenever you can. As long as you keep moving, then there’s no need to envy your neighbor who works out every day. You too stand to reap as many benefits as your neighbor.