Why You Don’t Actually Need to Work Out Every Day (According to Science)

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

We all know working out comes with a lot of health benefits, but what if exercise is just not really your thing, or you have a too-busy schedule that doesn’t allow for daily workout time? As it turns out, you don’t have to exercise every day—you’ll still get those healthy perks even if you’re a less frequent gym-goer.

Of course, more regular exercise will do more for your overall fitness levels, but as far as health benefits are concerned, working out only a few times a week still cuts it pretty close—which is good news for all those weekend warriors out there. A study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine examined 63,000 British and Scottish adults and found that those who exercised once or twice a week had a 30 percent lower mortality rate than those who didn’t work out at all. That’s only a 5 percent difference from those who worked out 3 or more times a week, who had a 35 percent lower mortality rate.

The study monitored participants for an extended period of time—from 1994 to 2012—and found that those who worked out once or twice per week (accumulating 150 minutes of exercise per week) also experienced lower cardiovascular and cancer rates. And those who worked out only 60 minutes per week (deemed “insufficient exercisers” by the researchers) had a 31 percent lower mortality rate than non-exercisers.

However, while it will still help you get all the health benefits you’re looking for, working out infrequently does still have its cons—for example, the less often you work out, the higher the risk you face of injuring yourself. Researchers admitted they didn’t track occurrence of injuries, but noted that if they did happen, they couldn’t have been too significant as they didn’t prevent the infrequent exercisers from getting their exercise on.

These results mean one important thing: it’s not how often you work out, it’s how much time you accumulate over the week that matters—so, if you’re already worried about your tight schedule, don’t focus on fitting fitness time in every day, just focus on doing what you can when you can. And as far as the risk of injuries is concerned, make sure you’re careful about your form and know (and don’t overly push) your limits, and you should be just fine.