We, as a society, are far too sedentary. We hear more and more than we’re killing ourselves by sitting and that the least amount of exercise we can get away with each week is 150 minutes, or 30 minutes on five days a week. Most people balk at that, citing that even a brief half hour most days is too much for their chaotic schedules. Could new research from the University of Alabama help you squeeze in a workout?
Four workouts each week might be all you need, according to the study just published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The study found that, amongst women ages 60-74, that they were getting as much out of a workout, if not more, by doing so four times per week than those doing more or even less. In the group that did three aerobic workouts and three resistance workouts per week, they did not train any better than their counterparts, completing two of each type of workout each week.
Fitness expert Jessica Smith balks slightly at the study results, suggesting they could be misleading.
“I would agree that you can do less ‘working out’ in one week (4 vs. 6 sessions), but I worry that this kind of a headline will make people think that they can just hit the gym four days a week and then be sedentary the rest of the time.”
Smith released “Thin in 10” in late 2022, a book focused on doing more for your diet and fitness with less time, or ten minutes to be exact. Her training style follows HIIT, or high intensity interval training, wherein you combine intense, short bursts of high intensity exercise with brief, low-intensity recovery. The result is a powerhouse workout in less than 30 minutes, therefore getting your body the exercise it needs in a shorter period of time to accommodate your schedule.
Smith continued by saying, “More and more research is showing us that even an hour of intense exercise at the gym is NOT enough to counteract the dangers of sitting 8-9 hours a day (which most office workers easily do – often longer), so I fear that skimming a headline like (“Why Four Workouts a Week May Be Better Than Six” at the NYTimes.com) this may make this issue even worse.”
In other words, don’t assume that the results of a a research study of 72 senior-aged women are going to be applicable to you. They may have found that four focused workout days a week are sufficient for this group, but it does not paint a broad enough picture for the populace as a whole. Sitting is killing us, there’s no doubt about that. So as Smith suggests, just because you work out those four days a week does not grant permission to be a stationary lump the other days.
“The thing about these ‘less is more’ ideas is that they only work if you are also active throughout your day in addition to your workout time,” advises Smith. “A 15 or 20 minute HIIT workout is not going to be enough activity for your body if you then go sit at your desk or on your couch for the remaining 13 hours or so of your day (and then go to bed to sleep!).”
The study did address this “non-exercise training” and indicated that the group who worked out four times per week did increase this type of activity, while the group working out six times per week actually decreased, likely because of fatigue.
Studies like this tend to give us an easy way out. “Oh, I only have to workout four days a week,” like Smith fears. If we hit that mark then we must be doing something right. We worked out four times, what else do they expect from us? Movement does not necessarily have to equate to a workout or exercise, per se. We tend to over think this. Taking a family bike ride or walk in the evening is quality movement. Think of it as a workout if you like, or think of it as not sitting still. Using a standing desk or even replacing your office chair with a fitness ball will promote more movement (and better health) during the day. Playing with your kids, and following other cliche recommendations like taking the stairs, parking further away, doing yard work, and playing a sport will also help you incorporate non-gym exercise.
Get the focused gym-style workout at least four days a week, as the study suggests, but just remember to keep moving as much as possible during the other days. Less might be more, but more never hurt anyone.