Four workouts a week may be better than six
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A common concern about exercise is that if you don't do it almost every day, you won't achieve much health benefit. But a commendable new study suggests otherwise, showing that a fairly leisurely approach to scheduling workouts may actually be more beneficial than working out almost daily.
For the new study, published this month in Exercise & Science in Sports & Medicine, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham gathered 72 older, sedentary women, ages 60 to 74, and randomly assigned them to one of three exercise groups.
One group began lifting weights once a week and performing an endurance-style workout, like jogging or bike riding, on another day.
Another group lifted weights twice a week and jogged or rode an exercise bike twice a week.
The final group, as you may have guessed, completed three weight-lifting and three endurance sessions, or six weekly workouts. The exercise, which was supervised by researchers, was easy at first and meant to elicit changes in both muscles and endurance. Over the course of four months, the intensity and duration gradually increased, until the women were jogging moderately for 40 minutes and lifting weights for about the same amount of time.
The researchers were hoping to find out which number of weekly workouts would be, Goldilocks-like, just right for increasing the women's fitness and overall weekly energy expenditure.
Some previous studies had suggested that working out only once or twice a week produced few gains in fitness, while exercising vigorously almost every day sometimes led people to become less physically active, over all, than those formally exercising less. Researchers theorised that the more gruelling workout schedule caused the central nervous system to respond as if people were overdoing things, sending out physiological signals that, in an unconscious internal reaction, prompted them to feel tired or lethargic and stop moving so much.